Israeli Army Probing Death of Two Palestinian Teens in Gaza Warning Missile Strike

The two, aged 15 and 16, were killed in July during a 'roof knocking' attack – when Israel fires small missiles onto roofs of buildings ahead of a wider strike ■ Investigation launched following B'Tselem-Forensic Architecture joint probe

Luai Kahil and Amir al-Nimrah

The Israeli military is investigating the death of two Palestinian teens during an Israeli strike in the Gaza Strip last July, Haaretz has learned.

The two, 15-year-old Amir al-Nimrah and 16-year-old Luai Kahil, were killed while sitting on a rooftop at the Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on July 14, as Israel and Hamas were locked in a flare-up.

The two teens were killed in what Israel calls "roof tapping" or "roof knocking" – firing small missiles at a roof of a building, creating a small explosion to warn the residents of an impending wider attack. Israel has also used this tactic in other campaigns in Gaza, such as Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009 as well as Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012.

The probe was launched following an investigation carried out by the human rights organization B’Tselem and the Forensic Architecture London-based research group. A video published by the two organizations combines aerial photographs and photos published by the Israeli army on the day of the attack.

On the day of the attack, the IDF Spokesperson said that the structure at the refugee camp "served as the Palestinian national library, a huge abandoned building near Nasser Street." The IDF added that the building's five stories were "meant for the use of Gaza residents, for public and government services [or] housing," but that it had been converted to a Hamas training compound."  The building, the army added, serves as a training ground "for urban warfare… and for survival in tunnels – thanks to an attack tunnel that was dug under it."

Asked again for comment, the army spokesman's office issued a statement on Wednesday in which it acknowledged that, following the attack, there were reports that the two teens had been killed. "An investigation showed that, at the time of the [missile] fire, no people were spotted on the roof of the building. The findings of the investigation are currently being examined by the Military Advocate General's office."

Before the attack, various steps were taken to minimize possible harm to civilians, including the roof tapping the statement said. "Contrary to what had been claimed, the [army] probe was carried out immediately following the event and not as the result of new information being received."

The roof-tapping tactic had been discontinued for several years because crowds of Palestinians would gather on the rooftops to try to prevent the demolitions of buildings.

After the 2014 conflict, a group of U.S. military experts from the Pentagon arrived in Israel to learn about the operation and the IDF's attempts to minimize civilian casualties.

A UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry's report on 2014's Operation Protective Edge concluded that while the method "may have been effective" in minimizing civilian casualties in specific instances, "'roof-knocks' cannot be considered an effective warning given the confusion they often cause to building residents and the short time allowed to evacuate before the actual strike."