Mideast Israel Palestinians

A Palestinian man sits by the rubble of his house in Gaza, following the 2014 conflict

The Israeli military has announced that it is closing its internal inquiry into the death of four Palestinian children who were killed on a Gaza beach during last summer’s Hamas-Israel war  – without any indictments.

The four boys, all cousins aged nine to 11, were killed while playing on a beach off a coastal road west of Gaza City during the war last summer. Seven others – adults and children – were wounded in the same airstrike. The incident drew international attention and condemnation.

Thursday’s military statement was released late at night – something the Israeli military has done in the past when announcing the closure of similar investigations. The military said the boys’ deaths were a tragic accident, caused when it mistook them for Hamas gunmen. It concluded that no international or Israeli laws of engagement were broken in the incident.

Military spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner said the announcement followed an extensive investigation by the military police, which questioned many soldiers involved in the planning and implementation of the strike.

He said on Facebook that it took place in an area “which was utilised exclusively by militants”. Aerial surveillance identified several figures, believed to be Hamas militants, enter a compound there.

“It should be stressed that the figures were not identified at any point during the incident, as children,” He said.

Witnesses at the time said a pair of Israeli airstrikes hit the beach. The first strike hit a container on a nearby jetty and the second struck the children as they were running away from the first strike.

The father of one of four Palestinian children said he is outraged by the announcement, adding he hopes the killings would be part of a Palestinian war crimes case against Israel, which is expected to be presented to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“There is no justice in the internal investigation,” Mohammed Bakr told The Associated Press. “We are counting on the ICC and human rights. We are not afraid and we are confident we will win because the world is with us.”

Israel has, in the past, pointed to the credibility of its internal investigations as proof that the involvement of the ICC was unnecessary.

Palestinians say the Israeli justice system is biased against them and complain the army rarely charges its soldiers with wrongdoing. The army’s closure of the probe is likely to feed those perceptions.