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From the field

Illegally fired tank shells kill four civilians in the Gaza Strip, 10 November 2012

According to media reports, on 10 November 2012 armed Palestinians fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli military patrol jeep near the perimeter fence of the Gaza Strip. Four soldiers were wounded, one seriously. In response, an Israeli military unit, probably an armored vehicle, fired shells at the Gaza Strip.

B’Tselem investigated the incident and found that, in response to the Palestinian missile attack, the Israeli military fired four tank shells in succession at the area of al -Muntar Hill, in the eastern part of Gaza City, about 1.5 kilometers from the perimeter fence. The investigation also found that the anti-tank missile fired by armed Palestinians at the military jeep had not been launched from that location.

According to testimonies received by B’Tselem, when the shells were fired, several members of Palestinian armed groups, apparently serving as lookouts, were at al-Muntar hill. Near by, a group of youths was playing soccer. About 50 meters further away, some twenty people were at a family's mourning tent. A few minutes after the second shell was fired, two more shells were fired, injuring people who had gathered at the scene to evacuate the casualties of the first shells.

A teenage boy, 17, who was at the scene related the following:

“I usually play soccer with friends at al-Muntar hill. There is a park there with grass next to a pool of water… On Saturday, 10 November 2012, around 3 pm, I arrived there with friends and we began playing… Then a man arrived on a motorcycle and stood next to two other men who were watching the border… Then I saw a flash of light and heard the sound of an earthshaking explosion. I saw a few young men flying through the air. The first shell hit the young men who were looking at the border. I saw my cousin lying on the ground, having trouble moving. A minute later, another shell landed… A few locals came over… Meanwhile two more shells landed one after another. They all landed in a radius of ten meters around al-Muntar hill… I saw many people lying on the ground, both injured and dead.”

Testimony of a 68-year-old man who had been present at the mourning tent at al-Muntar hill:

“A relative of mine had been sick and passed away… and a mourning tent was erected at al-Muntar hill… On Saturday, 10 November 2012, around 4:30 pm, I heard two explosions near the mourning tent. We immediately went running in the direction of the explosion we had heard and where we saw smoke rising. There were about twenty of us… Meanwhile, I heard another explosion and saw injured people lying on the ground. About half a minute later, I heard a fourth explosion. I felt I had been hit and felt pain all over my body.” Five Palestinians were killed in the shelling. Four of them were civilians who took no part in the hostilities. Of the four civilians killed, two were minors, aged 16 and 17, and the other two were 18 and 19 years old. The fifth casualty was a member of the military wing of Hamas. In addition, about 25 Palestinians, nine of them minors, were injured in the shelling. Ten of those injured sustained serious wounds.

Even granting that the Israeli military directed the shelling at people who had launched the anti-tank missile or members of Palestinian armed groups at the site, it is doubtful if firing a tank shell at a populated area can be deemed proportional. In any case, it is clear that after the first shell was fired and after even more civilians arrived on the scene to offer medical assistance to the injured, firing additional shells was not permissible.

B’Tselem referred the incident to the Israeli Military Advocate General Corps, demanding a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the incident.