Gaza grandfather recounts tragic killing of family by Israeli soldiers

When the Israeli soldiers entered the Gaza school where Yousef Khalil was sleeping near his family, they began shooting indiscriminately, killing nine people including children, he said, pointing to bullet-pocked, bloodstained walls.

His account, which Israel’s military says it is looking into, comes after the killing of three hostages escaping Hamas in Gaza raised new questions over Israel’s rules of engagement in a war that has proven unusually deadly for civilians.

According to Khalil, he was sheltering with his family in early December in the Shadia school in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza where some of the most intense recent fighting has been. Jabalia is in the part of the territory that Israel has told civilians to leave since October.

“They are my children and grandchildren. Why did they shoot them in front of my eyes?” said Khalil. He had been sleeping and the younger people were sitting up when two soldiers entered the room and shot everybody, he said.

“They started to shoot all around. Then they finished shooting. I was moving. They said ‘where do you want to go?’. I said ‘I want to leave, to get out. I want to check my children who died’. They said ‘you’re not allowed out of this room’.”

The incident, which he said took place during an Israeli army raid on Jabalia, ended with survivors being either detained or fleeing, he said.

When the survivors returned a week later, the bodies remained where they had died, he said. Reuters footage of the school filmed Dec. 13-15 showed ruined classrooms, at least two corpses on the floor of indeterminate age, bloodied bedding, and bullet holes and bloodstains low to the ground.

Asked about the incident, the Israeli military spokesperson’s unit said they were “working on it.”

Israel has faced widespread international criticism for the death toll from its air and artillery bombardment of Gaza in the war that began in October when the Palestinian group Hamas rampaged through Israeli towns, killing 1,200 people and abducting 240 others.

Palestinian health authorities in Gaza say nearly 20,000 people have been confirmed dead, mostly from the bombardment, and that many thousands more bodies likely lie uncounted under the rubble.

Israel has said it tries to avoid civilian casualties with its bombing and has accused Hamas of hiding among ordinary Gazans, including at school shelters and hospitals, leading to more civilian deaths. Hamas has denied this.

Civilian deaths

As Israeli forces have pushed further into Gaza’s dense urban areas this month, attention has increasingly focused on its ground forces’ conduct in a territory crammed with 2.3 million people.

Their killing of three escaping hostages last week who an initial enquiry said were waving a white flag prompted outrage among some Israelis and an acknowledgement by officials that the soldiers involved did not follow designated rules of engagement.

Palestinians ask how many Gaza inhabitants have also been killed in such incidents that did not receive the attention and investigations that followed the death of Israeli citizens.

Pope Francis on Sunday accused Israel’s military of “terrorism” tactics after their reported shooting of two Palestinian Christian women who had taken refuge in a Gaza church. Israel’s military said it was not true they had shot the women.

Discussing the deaths of the three hostages, Israeli chief of staff Major-General Herzi Halevi said the Israeli Defence Forces would not shoot at anybody who was surrendering.

“If it’s two Gazans with a white flag coming out to surrender, would we shoot at them? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. That’s not the IDF. I’m telling you, whoever is confused here, even those who fought us and now lay down their arms and raise their hands, we arrest them, we don’t shoot them,” he said.

The family of Samer al-Talalka, one of the three Israeli hostages shot dead, has been demanding answers.

“I say to the Israeli government ‘Enough. My son was murdered’,” said Fouad al-Talalka.

“If you want to bring them back by way of war, with an assault, you destroy houses and you kill them,” he said.

“Who wouldn’t be angry if they took your son for 70 days and you don’t know anything and then you get him back in a bag?”

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