Palestinians Claim Israel Misidentified Gaza Jihadist, Killing a Family of Eight

Gaza residents say strike erroneously targeted family with same name as Islamic Jihad commander ■ Military says it is investigating

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli air strike in Deir al-Balah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 14, 2019.
SAID KHATIB / AFP

>> UPDATE: Outdated intelligence, social media rumors: Behind Israel's killing of Gaza family

Eight members of a Palestinian family were killed on Wednesday night in an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip, a few hours before a cease-fire came into effect, in what neighbors and acquaintances said it was a case of mistaken identity.

A picture of Rasmi Abu Malhous released by the Israel Defense Forces.
Israel Defense Minister
Haaretz WeeklyHaaretz

“It’s cold-blooded murder,” a relative said.

The military said it had targeted Rasmi Abu Malhous, commander of the Islamic Jihad’s rocket squadron in the central Gaza Strip. But acquaintances of the family said the Israel Defense Forces had mistakenly killed the family of a man with the same name.

The IDF’s spokesman in Arabic published a picture of Abu Malhous, but residents of the town Deir al-Balah, where the family lived, say the man in the picture isn’t the one who was killed on Wednesday night.

“This was a very simple, poor family, who lives from hand to mouth in a tin shack, with no water or electricity,” said a neighbor who knew the family. “They lived off herding sheep and were known as simple, poor people. Is this the way the head of a rocket unit or a senior Islamic Jihadist lives?

Palestinians attend the funeral procession of members of the same family who were killed overnight in an Israeli airstrike, on November 14, 2019 in Deir al-Balah.
MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

“Every child in Gaza knows the unit members and senior activists live in different conditions, they have houses, and even when they go underground their children and families don’t live in such squalor,” he said. “The story that they attacked a senior jihadist seems disconnected from reality.”

Thousands attended the family members’ funeral on Thursday afternoon. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified them as Rasmi al-Sawarkah, 45; his son Muhannad, 12; Maryam, 45; Muath Mohammed, 7; Wasim Mohammed, 13; Yousra, 39; and two toddlers whose bodies were dug up from the debris on Thursday morning and whose names haven’t been released.

Dir al-Balah residents said all those who were killed were members of one family who lived in the compound that had been attacked.

A family relative, Mohammed al-Sawarkah, wept over the bodies. “Are these your enemies, Mr. Netanyahu?” he cried. “These children and toddlers? You send F-16 planes to attack this shack? Is this how you achieved victory? It’s a slaughter, cold blooded murder. Even if there was something suspicious here, can’t Israel discern that there’s an entire family here, a mother and five children?”

The Israeli military stated in response to the report that "the claim about hurting uninvolved civilians in the center of the Strip is familiar to us, and it is being investigated. A significant intelligence and operational effort was made so as not to hurt uninvolved civilians during [our actions] to thwart terror attacks."