Misfired rockets may have killed more than a dozen people in Gaza war

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Tel Aviv, Israel — Close to a third of Palestinians killed in the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza militants may have been killed by rockets fired by the Palestinian side, according to an Israeli military assessment that appears to be in line with independent reporting by the Associated Press. ,

The Israeli military said 47 Palestinians were killed over the weekend of fighting – at least 14 of them fell by rockets fired by Islamic Jihad.

No one with direct knowledge of the explosions in Gaza was willing to speak publicly about them. But live TV footage showed militant rockets falling in densely populated residential areas. And AP visits to the sites of two explosions that killed a total of 12 people supported suspicion they were caused by rockets that went off course.

Israel is claiming victory in the weekend’s clashes, because it killed two senior Islamic Jihad commanders and because no Israelis were killed or seriously injured. If it turns out that Islamic Jihad has harmed some of the people it claims to protect, it would have even more humiliating consequences for the terrorist group and its main sponsor, Iran.

In Gaza, the ruling Hamas militant group heavily opposes the policies, and sees many Palestinian armed groups as freedom fighters who defend their homeland in the face of Israeli aggression.

Israel said it only targeted terrorists and made every effort to spare civilians. But at least one attack, which killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in the southern city of Rafa late Saturday, also killed five civilians as Israel leveled a house and caused heavy damage to others.

The violence began on Friday, after Israel launched a wave of airstrikes against Islamic Jihad, as the military described an imminent threat to Israelis living near the Gaza border. By the time the ceasefire took effect late Sunday, Islamic Jihad had fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, and Israeli planes had targeted dozens of suspected terrorist targets.

The Israeli military said the militants fired about 1,100 rockets, about 200 of which landed inside the Palestinian enclave.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 46 Palestinians were killed in the three-day fighting, including 16 children and four women. It does not differentiate between civilians and extremists.

Islamic Jihad said 12 of its fighters were killed, a smaller armed group said it had lost one fighter, and Hamas said two Hamas-linked policemen who did not take part in the fighting were killed. Israel said it had killed at least 20 terrorists and seven civilians.

Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad responded to Israel’s claim that the misfired rockets killed civilians. Instead, he has blamed Israel for all the deaths.

Gaza-based human rights groups investigating the attacks also declined to address the claims. But their initial findings indicated that at least some of the explosions were suspicious.

The al-Mezzan human rights group said some civilians were killed by “projectiles” rather than by Israeli air strikes. The Palestinian Human Rights Center said it had so far confirmed that 27 people were killed in the Israeli attacks – far less than the total toll.

PCHR director Raji Sourani said the group only issued statements on incidents in which there was no ambiguity, and that the investigation would take longer due to “contradictory allegations” on others. He did not elaborate.

“We need eyewitnesses, shrapnel, video and evidence,” he said. “There should be an investigation.”

Suspicion centered on three explosions in which at least 15 civilians were killed.

Seven Palestinians were killed in an explosion on Saturday night at the overcrowded Jebalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. The Israeli military said it had not conducted any operations in the area at the time. It released video footage that purportedly showed a barrage of terrorist rockets, one of which was small.

Islamic Jihad had announced a rocket attack on the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, north of Jabalia, around the same time as the explosion.

Subsequent video footage circulated online, showing what appears to be a rocket casing sticking to the ground on a narrow, busy road. When the AP visited the site on Monday, the cover was gone and the hole was filled with dirt. Palestinians are generally willing to display evidence of Israeli airstrikes to the international media.

Al-Mezzan attributed the explosion to a “projectile” and the PCHR said it was still investigating.

On Sunday night, five Palestinians aged 4 to 17 were killed in a cemetery in Jabalia, just as Islamic Jihad announced a barrage of rockets. The Israeli military said it was investigating.

Visiting both sites in Jebalia, the AP saw no signs of an Israeli strike – wide craters left by F-16s or narrow holes caused by drone strikes.

In a third suspected explosion, one of the Hamas-linked policemen who was off-duty was killed on Sunday along with his three young children at the Buriz refugee camp in central Gaza. Hamas, a far more powerful militant group that has fought four wars with Israel, stayed away from the latest fighting, and Israel appears to have been careful not to target it.

Al-Mezzan and the PCHR said they are still investigating that episode.

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Cross reported from Ottawa, Ontario. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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