Tel-Aviv, Israel — Nearly a third of Palestinians killed in the latest spate of violence between Israel and Gaza militants may have been killed by errant rockets fired by the Palestinian side, according to an Israeli military assessment that appears consistent with independent reporting by The Associated Press. . .
The Israeli army said 47 Palestinians were killed in the weekend of fighting, at least 14 of them from rockets fired by Islamic Jihad that missed.
No one in Gaza with direct knowledge of the explosions in question was willing to talk about them publicly. But live television footage showed militant rockets falling short in densely populated residential neighborhoods. And AP visits to the sites of two explosions that killed a total of 12 people supported suspicions that they were caused by stray rockets.
Israel claims victory in the weekend clash, in part because it killed two top Islamic Jihad commanders and because no Israelis were killed or seriously injured. If it turns out that Islamic Jihad harmed some of those it claims to protect, the result would be even more humiliating for the militant group and its main backer, Iran.
In Gaza, the ruling militant group Hamas tightly controls dissent, and many Palestinians view the armed groups as freedom fighters defending their homeland in the face of Israeli aggression.
Israel said it only attacked the militants and did its best to save civilians. But at least one strike, which killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in the southern city of Rafah on Saturday night, also killed five civilians as Israel razed one house and badly damaged others.
The violence began on Friday, when Israel launched a wave of airstrikes against Islamic Jihad due to what the army described as an imminent threat to Israelis living near the Gaza border. By the time the ceasefire went into effect on Sunday night, Islamic Jihad had fired hundreds of rockets at Israel and Israeli planes had struck dozens of suspected militant targets.
The Israeli army said the militants fired some 1,100 rockets, of which some 200 landed inside the Palestinian enclave.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said 46 Palestinians were killed in the three days of fighting, including 16 children and four women. It does not differentiate between civilians and militants.
Islamic Jihad said 12 of its fighters were killed, a smaller armed group said it lost one fighter and Hamas said two Hamas-affiliated policemen who did not take part in the fighting were killed. Israel said it killed at least 20 militants and seven civilians.
Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad responded to Israel’s claims that the unsuccessful rockets killed civilians. Instead, they have held Israel responsible for all the deaths.
Gaza-based human rights groups investigating the attacks also declined to address the claims. But their initial findings indicate that at least some of the explosions were questionable.
The human rights group Al-Mezan said some civilians were killed by “projectiles” rather than Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said it has so far confirmed that 27 people were killed in Israeli strikes, far short of the total number.
PCHR director Raji Sourani said the group has issued statements only on those incidents where there was no ambiguity, and the others will take more time to investigate due to “conflicting allegations.” He did not elaborate.
“We need eyewitnesses, shrapnel, video and evidence,” he said. “There must be an investigation.”
Suspicions center on three explosions in which at least 15 civilians died.
On Saturday night, seven Palestinians were killed in an explosion in the overcrowded Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. The Israeli army said it did not carry out operations in the area at the time. He released video footage purportedly showing a barrage of militant rockets, and one fell short.
Islamic Jihad had announced a rocket attack on the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, just north of Jebaliya, around the same time as the blast.
Video footage of the aftermath circulated online, showing what appeared to be a rocket casing sticking out of the ground on a narrow, busy street. When the AP visited the site Monday, the carcass was gone and the hole had filled in with soil. Palestinians are often willing to show evidence of Israeli air strikes to the international media.
Al-Mezan attributed the explosion to a “shell,” and PCHR said it was still investigating.
On Sunday night, an explosion killed five Palestinians aged 4 to 17 at a cemetery in Jebaliya, also around the same time Islamic Jihad announced a barrage of rockets. The Israeli army said it was investigating.
Visiting both sites in Jebaliya, AP saw none of the telltale signs of an Israeli attack: the wide craters left by F-16s or the narrow holes caused by drone strikes.
In a third suspicious explosion, one of the Hamas-affiliated policemen, who was off duty, was killed along with three of his young children in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza on Sunday. Hamas, a much more powerful militant group that has fought four wars with Israel, has stayed out of the latest fighting, and Israel appears to have been careful not to attack it.
Al-Mezan and PCHR said they are still investigating that episode.
Krauss reported from Ottawa, Ontario. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.