A Palestinian mother and her four young children were killed in northern Gaza on Monday during an Israeli operation against militants there, and a dispute quickly arose over exactly how they had died.
The Israelis said they shot a missile from the air that hit two armed men who were carrying heavy explosives which blew apart the family’s house behind them. Palestinian witnesses said they believed an Israeli tank shell flew into the small house, killing the four as they were eating breakfast. Two other children from the same family were badly wounded and hospitalized.
The killings prompted vows of revenge and seemed likely to complicate Egyptian efforts to mediate a cease-fire between Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza, and Israel.
Shortly afterward, seven rockets and nine mortars were fired at southern Israel from Gaza. No one there was injured although a building was damaged.
Moaweiya Hassanein, chief of emergency and ambulance services in the Palestinian health ministry, said there were at least 10 injured in Gaza from the fighting.
Outside the house of the Abu Maatak family in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, pots, children’s clothes and shoes lay scattered on the ground, a scene shown repeatedly on Palestinian and other Arab television channels along with photos of the swathed dead bodies, including that of a baby, lying on metal trays in a Gaza morgue.
The dead were named by relatives as sister Rudayna and Hana Abu Maatak, ages 6 and 3; their brothers Saleh, 4, and Mousad, 15 months, and their mother Miyasar, the youngest of three wives of Ahmed Abu Maatak, 70, who said he had gone to the market when the missile hit.
Palestinian security officials said that several Israeli army tanks, armored vehicles and bulldozers backed by helicopters stormed Beit Hanoun early on Monday. Militant groups said in separate leaflets sent to reporters that they confronted the Israeli forces with bombs and grenades, adding that Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants exchanged fire.
Maj. Avital Leibovich, chief spokeswoman of the Israeli military for the foreign press, said that while the army was still investigating, an initial inquiry into the events showed that several Israeli armored personnel carriers had entered the area of Beit Hanoun in what she described as a routine search for rocket launchers, snipers and terrorists.