The Israeli military had the speeding motorcycle in its sights and had fired an air-to-ground missile at it when the three riders, identified as militants, entered a traffic circle in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. It was Aug. 3, 2014.
The way the riders chose to leave the traffic circle took them past a United Nations school where Palestinian civilians were sheltering from that summer’s fighting. About 10 civilians who had gathered outside the school were killed when the missile reached its target, in an episode that prompted international outrage.
On Wednesday, the Israeli military closed its investigation into the airstrike and cleared itself of wrongdoing, saying that by the time the motorcycle had turned toward the school, it was too late to divert the missile.
The case was one of seven investigations into possible military misconduct during the 50-day war between Israel and Gaza’s rocket-firing militant groups that the Israelis said they were closing, two years after a cease-fire ended the fighting.
As the civilian death toll mounted in Gaza in 2014, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations condemned the motorcycle strike as “a criminal act” and demanded that those responsible be held accountable. But in its report on Wednesday, the Israeli military said that while the harm to the civilians was “a tragic and regrettable result,” its forces had been unable to discern the group of civilians in real time, and that the targeting process was in line with Israeli domestic law and the requirements of international law.
Another case that was closed on Wednesday involved an Israeli strike on a building in the Bureij refugee camp that killed at least six members of the Zeyada family. Israel concluded that the strike was justified and legal; that the building was being used by Hamas, the militant group that dominates Gaza, as “an active command and control center”; that four of the casualties were military operatives, including three of the Zeyadas; and that Israeli forces did their best to limit harm to noncombatants by using precise munitions.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Isabel Kershner