The Israeli army’s killing of three Palestinian civilians at the weekend, among them an elderly Gazan and his grandson, was a mistake, a senior commander admitted.
The incident, which took place late on Sunday, saw three civilians in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun killed by a burst of Israeli tank fire — a 91-year-old man, his 17-year-old grandson and another man, 20.
At the time, the army said troops had fired towards a group of suspects who were attempting to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at them.
But Brigadier General Ayal Eisenberg, head of the army’s Gaza division, on Tuesday admitted the soldiers had made a mistake.
“The civilians killed by our soldiers’ fire … were not involved in any terrorist operation,” Eisenberg told army radio.
He said troops had seen one of the three picking up an RPG that had been left on the ground and had mistakenly assumed they were a group of militants.
“Our soldiers identified a civilian who was picking up an RPG and, thinking he was going to fire at them, opened fire” in his direction, he added.
Eisenberg said it was only after the incident that they realised the three were not involved in any militant activity.
The incident occurred shortly after several rockets and mortar rounds had been fired across the border into southern Israel in an attack claimed by the Popular Resistance Committees.
Gazans often venture close to the border despite the danger in search of scrap metal and chunks of concrete that they can resell, a consequence of years of border closures that have devastated the local economy.