Israeli soldiers used an armed drone to kill four Palestinian children in Gaza without authorisation, a secret report by the Israeli military police reveals.
The report, which was obtained by the Intercept, shows that the children were killed while playing on a beach in Gaza on 16 July 2014. The four boys – Ismail, Ahed, Zakaria and Mohammed – were all cousins from the Bakr family aged ten and 11. Four other children from the same family were also playing nearby and suffered shrapnel wounds during the strike.
The Israeli drone operators told investigators that after killing the first boy, they had sought clarification from their superiors as to how far along the beach they could pursue the fleeing children. The report finds that, "less than a minute later, the drone operators decided to launch a second missile, killing three more children, despite never getting an answer to their question."
The Israeli soldiers allegedly mistook the children for Hamas operatives after they were spotted playing near a jetty thought to be being used to store weapons. However, Al Jazeera reports that "experts, journalists and eyewitnesses have all contested the claim weapons were stored in the container, as no members of Hamas were seen in the vicinity."
Although Israel has sought to conceal its use of drones, testimonies from the drone operators, commanders and intelligence officers who took part in the attack confirm that an armed drone was used to fire the missile that killed the four children. The Intercept adds that "the Israeli military police report offers the most direct evidence to date that Israel has used armed drones to launch attacks in Gaza."
The attack was caught on camera by several international journalists who were stationed nearby to cover Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" assault on Gaza that was ongoing at the time. Images of the boys' bodies sparked international outrage, prompting the Israeli army to conduct a review of the mission and recommend that a military police investigation into possible criminal negligence be conducted.
These testimonies were eventually presented to Israel's military advocate general, Major General Danny Efroni, 11 months after the boys were killed. Efroni did not release the testimonies, instead only releasing a summary of the findings to the public and closing the investigation without filing any charges. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, otherwise known as Adalah, has fought on behalf of the boys' families to have the decision not to prosecute the soldiers overturned.
Over the course of Israel's 2014 assault on Gaza 2,251 Palestinians, including 547 children, were killed. A further 11,000 were wounded. During the first 48 hours of the operation alone, Israel dropped 400 tonnes of bombs on Gaza and launched some 6,000 air strikes on the besieged Strip over a period of 51 days.