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From the field

Suspicion: Unlawful firing kills toddler in Gaza; Kerem Shalom Crossing closure constitutes prohibited collective punishment

The Abu Sbeikhah family home today. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem.
The Abu Sbeikhah family home today. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem.

B’Tselem held initial inquiries into the Israeli response to yesterday’s killing of Israeli civilian Salah Abu Ltayef who was killed by a Gazan sniper yesterday. Among other actions, a tank fired three shells at the two-story home of the Abu Sbeikhah family. Their home is located in an agricultural area in al-Maghazi Refugee Camp, approximately 500 meters from the Gaza perimeter fence. The shelling killed toddler Hala Abu Sbeikhah (2 years, 8 months old) while she was playing in the yard of the family home. Hala’s aunt and two young cousins sustained injuries. The Abu Sbeikhahs reported that the military had been known to warn residents by loudspeaker of impending operational activity in the area and, accordingly, order them to vacate their homes. Yesterday’s shelling, however, was preceded by no warning.

B’Tselem does not know the reasoning for the tank’s firing at the Abu Sbeikhah home. Hala’s uncle, who was outside during the firing, said there was no activity by armed Palestinians in the area at the time. The IDF Spokesperson announcement did not state the proposed object of the strike, apart from the laconic description of the attack on the central Gaza Strip as aimed at “a core of terrorist activity and terrorist infrastructure”. The IDF announcement also stated that “the targets were seen to have been hit precisely,” yet to the best of B’Tselem’s knowledge, the only casualties in of the military attack were the four members of the Abu Sbeikhah family. The IDF Spokesperson’s announcement did not address the harsh results of the shells fired.

Deliberate firing at a home occupied by civilians, without its inhabitants having been given any prior warning and without the military ensuring that the civilians have vacated the premises, as appears to be the case in this situation, is unlawful. The military must launch an immediate investigation of the incident, including questioning those directly responsible for firing the shells as well as the senior commanders who ordered the attack. 

The Abu Sbeikhah family home today. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem.
The Abu Sbeikhah family home today. Photo: Muhammad Sabah, B'Tselem.

Also in response, the Israeli military yesterday closed Kerem Shalom Crossing, thereby barring the export of 16 tons of strawberries and 100,000 flowers scheduled for shipping to Europe. Hundreds of families are dependent for their livelihood on the sale of this produce abroad. The farmers will have no choice but to sell their goods locally at great financial loss. Moreover, according to information provided by Israeli NGO Gisha (Legal Center for Freedom of Movement) the military has also not allowed through hundreds of thousands of tons of fuel for the electric plant and the private sector. The fuel has not been allowed into Gaza despite the dire humanitarian situation there and the serious shortage of electricity and fuel at a time when the damage by the recent storms has not been overcome.

Closing the crossing constitutes a collective punitive measure of the entire population of the Gaza Strip which violates the basic tenets of law and justice.