Israeli army: 'only 30-40' Gazans were killed on purpose
AP Photo/Khalil Hamra
A senior Israeli military official said Thursday that only "30 to 40" of the at least 125 Palestinians who died from Israeli fire along the Gaza border in recent weeks were killed on purpose, with these being identified by the IDF as terrorists with hostile intentions.
Since late April thousands of Palestinians have been taking part in protests along the Gaza-Israel border that quickly turned violent, calling for the right to return to their ancestral homelands in what is now Israel.
Israel came under withering international criticism over the high number of deaths as its troops faced off along the border, including from allies.
However a senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer, who declined to be named, said that many of his soldiers reported that their bullets hit one person and then continued in flight and hit another.
There are also other cases of simple mistakes, according to the officer, in which a bullet meant as a warning shot can hit a person by accident, or strike a rock and then ricochet towards a person.
He assessed that the female medic killed last Friday, Razan al-Najjar, died as a result of this type of situation. There have also been cases of bullets that ricocheted off the border fence and hit people.
For this reason the sniper positions along the border have been elevated in recent weeks to allow the snipers to shoot over the fence more easily, the officer disclosed.
The officer noted that although the IDF has attempted to minimize casualties they have not found a better way to protect the border than the use of "minimal gunfire aimed towards the legs".
He added that if the IDF were to cease shooting in this way it would end in disaster considering the attempts to breach the fence and the nearby Israeli communities.
The senior officer noted that different considerations enter into the decision of whether or not to to shoot, adding that each shot is always approved by an officer in the field.
He noted as an example a case in which a group of four isolated Palestinians managed to breach the fence. These youths were not shot, but the officer added that if there had been a large crowd behind them, they indeed would have been shot, emphasizing the potential threat of hundreds of Palestinians infiltrating into Israel, with armed cells hidden among the crowd.
A Hamas official has said that its members accounted for 50 of the 60 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire on May 14, when the largest protests and clashes took place.
The specter of a mass border breach from the Palestinian enclave terrifies many Israelis and has caused high levels of support for the army's conduct despite an international outcry at the high number of deaths, including from Israel's allies.
On Wednesday British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson renewed his earlier call for an independent investigation into the violence in Gaza.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission also voted to establish a war crimes probe into the deaths of demonstrators, with only the United States and Australia voting against it. Israel blasted the move as ignoring what it says is Hamas' role in the violence and said it won't co-operate with investigators.
Participants thinned since the largest protests coinciding with the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem last month, however Israel is gearing up for a larger turnout on Friday.
Asked what could cause the situation on the Gaza border to escalate even further, the officer gave several examples of possible "game changers": three Israeli soldiers being killed during the protests, a rocket hitting a kindergarten while children are present, or a breach in the fence that would lead to a mass infiltration by 500 or so protesters.
After such events, the officer said, the IDF would be forced to use much greater firepower.
Shai Ben Ari is senior defense correspondent for i24NEWS.
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