(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF concluded Wednesday that Israeli tank shells caused the deaths of four Palestinian girls, including three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, when his house was accidentally attacked on January 16, during Operation Cast Lead.
Following the investigation, the army confirmed that two shells had hit the building. The findings were presented to and approved by OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
The IDF said that a Golani Brigade force was operating near Beit Lahiya when it came under sniper and mortar fire in an area laden with explosives. After determining that the source of the fire was in a building adjacent to Abuelaish's home, the force returned fire.
While the IDF was shooting, suspicious figures were identified in the top floors of the doctor's house, and the troops believed the figures were directing the Hamas sniper and mortar fire, the army 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, and it was from this fire that his three daughters were killed, said the IDF.
Once the soldiers realized that civilians, and not Hamas gunmen, were in the house they ceased fire immediately, continued the army. Three of the doctor's daughters - aged 20, 15 and 13 - and a niece were killed on the second floor.
Another of his daughters and a son were wounded, along with his brother. Abuelaish was on the ground floor with his small son at the time of the attack. The physician's wife died of cancer three months ago.
The IDF Spokesman's Unit stressed that in the days prior to the incident, Abuelaish - who had worked before at Beersheba's Soroka University Medical Center and had very good connections with Israelis - was contacted personally several times by officers in the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration to urge him to evacuate his home because of Hamas operations and the intense fighting that was already taking place in that area for several days.
In addition to the personal contact made directly with the doctor, the IDF issued warnings to the residents of Sajaiya by dropping thousands of leaflets and by issuing warnings via Palestinian media outlets. The IDF said it regretted the incident and the loss of life, and that the doctor had been updated with details of the investigation as well.
Considering the constraints of the battle scene, the amount of threats that endangered the force, and the intensity of fighting in the area, the investigators concluded that the forces' action and the decision to fire towards the building were reasonable.
Abuelaish, speaking on Channel 2 Wednesday, thanked all those who worked to find the truth about the incident and accepted the findings, saying that mistakes can happen.