Tel Aviv, Israel — Nearly a third of the Palestinians killed in the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza militants may have been killed by errant rockets fired from the Palestinian side, according to an Israeli military assessment that appears to be consistent with an independent report by The Associated Press. .
The Israeli military said 47 Palestinians were killed over the weekend of fighting – at least 14 of them by Islamic Jihad-fired rockets.
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 areas. And the AP visited the sites of two explosions that killed a total of 12 people and supported suspicions that they were caused by rockets.
Israel is claiming victory in the weekend clash, as two senior Islamic Jihad commanders were killed and no Israelis were killed or seriously injured. If it turns out that Islamic Jihad harms some of those it claims to protect, it will have even more humiliating consequences for the militant group and its main sponsor, Iran.
In Gaza, the ruling Hamas is largely opposed by the militant group, and many Palestinians see the armed groups as freedom fighters defending their homeland in the face of Israeli aggression.
Israel said it only targeted militants and did all it could to save civilians. But at least one strike that killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in the southern city of Rafah late Saturday killed five civilians as Israel leveled a house and heavily damaged others.
The violence began on Friday, when Israel launched airstrikes against Islamic Jihad in what the military described as 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 into Israel and Israeli aircraft had struck dozens of suspected militant targets.
The Israeli military said the militants fired about 1,100 rockets and about 200 landed in the Palestinian enclave.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said 46 Palestinians, including 16 children and four women, were killed in three days of fighting. It does not differentiate between civilians and terrorists.
Islamic Jihad said 12 of its fighters were killed, a smaller armed group said it lost one soldier, and Hamas said two Hamas-affiliated policemen who did not take part in the fighting were killed. Israel said it killed at least 20 militants and seven civilians.
Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad have responded to Israel’s claims that errant rockets killed civilians. Instead, they blame Israel for all the deaths.
Gaza-based human rights groups investigating the strikes also declined to comment on the claims. But their initial findings suggest that at least some of the explosions were suspicious.
The Al-Mezan human rights group said some civilians were killed by “missiles” rather than Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said 27 people had been confirmed killed in Israeli strikes so far – well below the total number.
PCHR director Raji Sourani said the group only issued statements on incidents where there was no ambiguity and that others would require more time to investigate due to “contradictory allegations”. He did not give detailed information.
“We need eyewitnesses, tampering, videos and evidence,” he said. “There must be an inquiry.”
Suspicion centers on three blasts that killed at least 15 civilians.
Seven Palestinians were killed Saturday night in an explosion in the crowded Jebalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. The Israeli military said it did not take any action in the area at the time. It released video footage purportedly showing a barrage of rockets fired by militants, with one falling short.
Islamic Jihad announced a rocket attack on the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, just north of Jebalia, around the time of the explosion.
Video footage later circulated online, showing a rocket casing sticking out of the ground on a narrow, busy street. When the AP visited the site on Monday, the casing was gone and the pit was filled with dirt. Palestinians are generally eager to show evidence of Israeli airstrikes to the international media.
Al-Mezan attributed the blast to a “projectile” and the PCHR said it was still investigating.
On Sunday night, five Palestinians aged between 4 and 17 were killed in an explosion at a cemetery in Jebalia, at the same time Islamic Jihad announced the deployment of rockets. The Israeli military said it was investigating.
Visiting both sites in Jebaliya, the AP saw no obvious signs of Israeli strikes — wide craters left by F-16s or narrow holes left by drone strikes.
In a third suspected blast, an off-duty Hamas-affiliated policeman was killed along with his three young children on Sunday in Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. Hamas, a more powerful militant group that has fought four wars with Israel, has stayed out of the latest fighting, and Israel appears to have been careful not to target it.
Al-Mezan and PCHR said they are still investigating the area.
Cross reported from Ottawa, Ontario. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.