Israel conceded on Wednesday that an Israeli tank had fired at the eastern Gaza City home of a Palestinian doctor last month, killing three of his daughters.
The girls’ deaths were among the most publicized during Israel’s 22-day Gaza offensive, as the family’s tragedy had unraveled live on Israeli television.
Ezz al-Din Abu al-Aish, a gynecologist from northern Gaza, works at the Tel Hashomer hospital east of Tel Aviv and speaks fluent Hebrew.
He was being interviewed by Israel’s Channel 10 TV station when two tank shells hit his apartment, killing three of his eight children.
Two others were injured, as was he, and they were taken to hospitals in Israel. The doctor’s brother and two nephews were also killed.
“My girls, oh God, they’ve killed my girls,” cried al-Aish, as a shocked-looking Channel 10 reporter held his mobile phone to the microphone during a live broadcast.
The Jan. 16 incident shocked Israelis, who had been largely shielded from the images of the devastation caused by the Gaza offensive, broadcast on foreign television networks.
The Israeli military launched an internal investigation, results of which were published on Wednesday.
“The conclusions found that two shells were fired from an IDF [Israel Defense Forces] tank resulting in the deaths of Dr al-Aish’s three daughters,” it said in a statement sent to the media.
The military expressed grief at the deaths, but stopped short of apologizing, saying the force which fired the shells had been under threat from local militants and its commander’s decision to fire towards the building had been “reasonable.”
It said it had warned al-Aish to evacuate his home, both by contacting him personally and by dropping leaflets and issuing calls via local media on residents to leave the area of the intense fighting.
Al-Aish told Israel’s Channel 2 television on Wednesday night that he was relieved the truth had come out.
“I want to thank all those who acted and who had the courage and the conscience to bring the truth which I believed in to light,” he said, pleading for the Israeli military to learn a lesson from the mistakes it made, but never to repeat them.
He said doctors at the Tel Hashomer hospital in Israel had saved the eye and fingers of his seriously injured surviving daughter and a critically injured niece was now conscious.
The military said the force from the elite Golani Infantry Brigade operating in the Sheja’eyah neighborhood had come under sniper and mortar fire “in an area laden with explosives.”
The force returned fire at the local militants and during the exchange of fire identified what it thought were “suspicious figures” in the upper level of al-Aish’s house.
The commander thought they were “spotters” directing the Hamas sniper and mortar fire, the military statement said.
“Upon assessing the situation in the field while under heavy fire, the commander of the force gave the order to open fire on the suspicious figures,” it said.
“Following the opening of fire, screams were heard from the direction of the house and immediately the IDF force ceased all fire,” the statement said.
It said the IDF acted to allow for ambulances to evacuate the injured via the Erez crossing between northern Gaza and Israel to Israeli hospitals, when its troops understood the house was that of al-Aish.
“The IDF is saddened by the harm caused to the al-Aish family, but at the same time states that considering the constraints of the battle scene, the amount of threats that endangered the force, and the intensity of fighting in the area, the forces’ action and the decision to fire towards the building were reasonable,” the statement said.