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Israeli Forces Kill 4 Palestinian Children Playing Beach Soccer in Gaza

Photos showing the Bakir boys running for their lives following the first Israeli attack, then being killed by a second Israeli projectile. (24Media)

Photos showing the Bakir boys running for their lives following the first Israeli attack, then being killed by a second Israeli projectile. (24Media)

Israeli military forces shelled or bombed a group of Palestinian children playing soccer on a Gaza City beach, killing four of them and wounding three others, one of them critically.

There are conflicting reports regarding which branch of the Israeli military is responsible for the attack that killed cousins Ismail Mahmoud Bakir (age 9), Ahed Atef Bakir (10), Zakariya Ahed Bakir (10) and Mohammad Ramiz Bakir (11).

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officials told Haaretz that “based on initial findings, it appears as though the children were killed by an air strike which targeted Hamas militants.”

But numerous international journalists, many of whom are staying at the Al-Deira Hotel adjacent to the beach where the boys were playing soccer, witnessed the actual attack and attributed it to shelling from an Israeli naval warship. Peter Beaumont of Britain’s Guardian reported a shell struck the sea wall, sending people running for safety.

“Even from a distance of 200 meters, it was obvious that three of them were children,” wrote Beaumont.

As the boys ran for their lives across the beach and toward the safety of the Al-Deira Hotel, they waved and shouted at the journalists watching in horror. That’s when “the second shell hit the beach, those firing apparently adjusting their fire to target the fleeing survivors,” Beaumont observed.

“They are only children,” shouted the journalists from the hotel terrace as three injured children, all of them with shrapnel in their bodies, made it to the hotel.

NBC News reported “scenes of anguish” at the nearby Al-Shifa Hospital when the victims’ parents learned the fate of their children.

“My son! My son,” cried the mother of one of the slain boys.

“He was my only son,” Zakariya’s father told NBC News. “He died with his cousins. They all died together.”

Meanwhile, the injured boys were treated, for shrapnel wounds as well as for the likely life-long trauma of witnessing their cousins blown up before their very eyes.

In addition to the survivors of the beachside attack, the overwhelmed and critically understocked Al-Shifa has already treated hundreds of Palestinian civilians wounded during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s nine-day military campaign targeting Gaza-based Palestinian militants, mainly Hamas, who continue to launch rockets indiscriminately against Israeli cities and towns.

At least 214 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed. Dozens of children are among the Palestinian dead, including six boys under the age of 12 who died on Wednesday. More than 1,200 Palestinians, and dozens of Israelis, have been wounded during the past nine days.

Responding to the killing of the Bakir boys, IDF officials called the incident “tragic” and unintentional.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra called the killings “a cowardly crime.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top IDF officials have repeatedly claimed that Israel does everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, including utilizing ‘knock on the roof’ warning bombings. But as the earlier deaths of two disabled women in a care clinic demonstrated, even these measures often fail to protect innocent civilians from death or injury.

Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have blamed Hamas for the high number of civilians killed by Israeli strikes, accusing the militant resistance group of risking innocent lives by launching rockets and conducting other operations in crowded residential areas.

Since withdrawing from Gaza in 2005, Hamas and other resistance fighters have launched more than 11,000 rockets into Israel, according to the IDF. The mostly crude rockets rarely kill or even injure anyone, although they do cause some property damage and terrorize millions of Israelis.

Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups claim they have no other option but to continue launching rockets against Israel, whose independence was secured through an ethnic cleansing campaign that displaced more than 700,000 Arabs and destroyed more than 400 Palestinian towns and villages in 1948-49. Israeli forces occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, and although it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Israel still maintains tight control over the tiny, densely populated strip, exacerbating endemic poverty and despair.

“Our backs are to the wall and we have nothing to lose,” explained Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. “We are ready to battle until the end.”

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