Six-year-old Israa Abu Khussa and her 10-year-old brother Yassin were still sleeping when the Israel Air Force launched four airstrikes across the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Saturday. Missile fragments tore through their home, only partly rebuilt following the 2014 offensive. Yassin and Israa were rushed to hospital, but both died of their wounds. Two other children were injured.
The Israeli attack came after four rockets were fired by an unidentified Palestinian faction late on Friday, landing in open areas in southern Israel not far from the Gaza border. There were no injuries.
In accordance with a policy of holding Hamas “accountable for all attacks emanating from Gaza”, despite the fact that the group was not responsible for the projectile fire, the Israeli airstrikes targeted sites belonging to Al-Qassam Brigades. The only casualties, however, were four children.
Since the start of 2016, a total of eight rockets have been fired into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, in four separate incidents on January 1 and 24, and March 11 and 14 (note that on January 1, three rockets also fell inside Gaza). Like the deadly airstrike this past weekend, the Israeli military responded to the rocket launchings in January with airstrikes on Hamas military facilities.
Based on Israeli government figures, coupled with the events of the last week, 36 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel since the August 2014 ceasefire – but not one of them by Al-Qassam Brigades. Last month, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Hamas had “not fired a single rocket, nor even a single bullet” from Gaza since the end of ‘Operation Protective Edge’.
However, while Al-Qassam Brigades continues to observe the ceasefire, violent attacks by Israel’s armed forces on Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip have continued unabated. On March 2, for example, in an incident barely covered by English language media, a high calibre Israeli bullet hit a classroom at a Palestinian elementary school east of Gaza City, while class was in session.
Based on data published by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), there have been more than 100 incidents of Israeli forces opening fire at Palestinian civilians and property on land and at sea, since the start of the year (up to March 7).
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza, meanwhile, has documented 71 incidents of Israeli attacks on land and at sea during January and February, including 45 shootings, and seven military incursions. The vast majority of these attacks have occurred either in the context of Palestinians accessing properties and lands near the border fence, or fishermen working at sea.
Israeli forces have frequently opened fire on Palestinian farmers (such as on January 30, February 8, March 1, and March 5). On February 28, Israeli forces opened fire at farmers some 800 metres away from the fence, shooting one man in the leg. Palestinian fishermen, meanwhile, are repeatedly harassed and attacked, including on three occasions in four days last month.
In addition, on January 13, Israeli forces targeted a group of Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip, killing a member of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades who Israeli authorities said was intending to plant an explosive device near the border fence. It was the first extrajudicial killing carried out by Israeli forces in Gaza since the end of ‘Operation Protective Edge’.
The weekend’s fatalities came almost exactly five months to the day since another Israeli airstrike killed Palestinian civilians. On October 11, the Israel Air Force bombed the home of the Hassan family as they slept; the mother, 25-year-old Nur, heavily pregnant at the time, was killed, as was 3-year-old Rahaf. An Israeli army spokesperson said Hamas “weapon production sites” were targeted.
At the time, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem emphasised “the illegality of Israel’s longstanding policy of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, with its repeated lethal consequences for civilians.” Yet there is seemingly little prospect of Israel ceasing such attacks – nor any chance of accountability for the killing of three children and a pregnant woman in the two airstrikes of October 11 and March 12.
After the killing of the two Abu Khoussa children at the weekend, Al-Qassam Brigades issued a statement warning that their patience, and that of other factions, “has its limits.” Thus, in addition to the human cost of these repeated attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s continued violations of the August 2014 ceasefire run the risk of paving the way towards a new escalation.