An Israeli military spokesman says the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) should have been able to tell that four boys it killed on a Gaza beach last week were not Hamas operatives.
The four boys from the one extended family – Zacaria, Aahed Bakr Jr, Mohammed and Ismail – were killed by a rocket strike while they played.
“The IDF had a target, a Hamas terrorist target,” Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told the ABC’s 7.30 program.
“We had intelligence pointing specifically to that location and we had the indication that the perpetrators were on the beach. We had a specific target indicating that they were supposed to be there.
“We had visual surveillance, clearly, to an extent that we should have been able to determine who was on the beach.”
Lt Col Lerner did not provide detail about how long the boys were being observed or by what method.
“We need to determine what happened between the gathering of the intelligence and what happened that caused this unfortunate human tragedy,” he said.
While the Israeli military continues its official investigation, the extended family of the four boys is devastated.
Father shares heartbreak of loss
Aahed Bakr, the father of Zacaria, still cannot comprehend what happened.
“I found my kids dismembered. Innocent kids dismembered – it was carnage,” he told 7.30.
“I fainted. I couldn’t understand. It looked like a lie or a movie scene. Even now I can’t understand or believe they died.”
Mr Bakr’s wife, Um Ataf, is inconsolable and he admits that privately he, too, is struggling.
“I cry when I am on my own, but I don’t like my wife and daughters to see me. Overnight I just think and remember what happened to them, my kids and the rest.”
Mr Bakr is a fisherman and his family has a long and strong connection with the sea.
“Every day [the children] were going [to the beach] to play, to check the boats, to relax a bit, to see other fishermen, to play with other kids, to swim,” he said.
“This is the only place where you can relax. Every day they went to the sea from morning until late afternoon.”
Boys were playing hide and seek
His son, Muntaser, Zacaria’s brother, was at the beach that day with his four relatives.
They were among a line of small buildings and sheds on a break wall. It forms part of Gaza’s harbour which on previous days had been hit by Israeli fire. The boys were playing hide and seek.
Muntaser remembers a round of the game had begun and one of the boys was among the sheds when they came under attack.
“We started calling him until the rocket hit him,” Muntaser said.
“We ran away. I was running with them when they sent the second rocket.”
A photographer captured images of the boys running for their lives.
“I lost my friends,” Muntaser said. “I won’t be able to play with anybody and I can’t go to the port anymore.”
He is powerless, but is desperate to be powerful.
“I say to the resistance, ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t give up, don’t do anything before taking revenge for my brother and my nephew and my two other cousins and take the revenge for the whole country … and take revenge for the world and all the sad people with no home’.”
In Gaza, Israel and Hamas are doing battle in a territory where half the population are children. Officials say at least 145 children have now been killed in the current conflict.
“It’s a human tragedy,” Lt Col Lerner said. “Children are not our targets. We do not target civilians. It defeats the object of our mission.
“Our mission is against the bad people who are striking Israel, who are launching rockets indiscriminately at our population, at Tel Aviv, at Jerusalem, at Haifa, at Be’er Sheva.”
But that is cold comfort to Mr Bakr.
The Bakr boys were buried by the entrance to a simple cemetery near their home. Mr Bakr says the mourners were too afraid to dig the graves further into the cemetery, on a hill, in case they were seen by Israeli gunboats out at sea.
“No more,” he said. “We can’t understand what’s happening around us. Every day there’s a new massacre.
“It’s really something my brain can’t take anymore.”
Claims of war crimes
Meanwhile, an emergency session of the United Nations Human Rights Council has been told Israel may have committed war crimes in Gaza.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, says there is a strong possibility the killing of civilians including children is a breach of the law.
Ms Pillay says 147 children have been killed in Gaza over the past 16 days.
“Their killing raises concerns about respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack,” she said.
“Israeli children and their parents and other civilians also have a right to live without the constant fear that a rocket fired from Gaza may land on their homes or their schools, killing and injuring them.
About 650 Palestinians and 29 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the past 16 days.