Grave consequences: Three children – 6-year-old Muhammad Roka, his 5-year-old sister Nida and 16-year-old Bilal al-Hizi, were killed Tuesday evening as the Israel Air Force attempted to assassinate a group belonging to the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, the al-Shifa Hospital Director Dr. Jumaa al-Saka told Ynet.
The Israel Defense Forces expressed its regret "if civilians not involved in terror activities were hurt in the operation," adding that "responsibility lays on the terror organizations and on the Hamas government."
Another 15 people were wounded in the strike, including two group activists who were in the car and sustained serious wounds
Eyewitnesses added that some of the passengers managed to escape from the jeep before it was hit.
Injured evacuated from scene of strike (Photo: Reuters)
Khalil Roka, a cousin of the dead child, said he was sitting in front of his car repair shop while the children played in front of the house nearby. He said he saw a red flash as the car exploded, and the children were hit, but he didn't see the child who was killed.
"I was carrying my other cousins to the ambulance," he said.
It is still unclear how the missiles hit innocent people, and the IDF will launch an investigation into the incident.
Since the incident at the Gaza beach about 10 days ago, in which seven members of the Ghalia family were killed, the IDF has only been operating through the Air Force. In several incidents, missiles were fired at terror cells responsible for firing Qassam rockets, and in one case at a cell spotted trying to place an explosive device on the border fence in the southern Gaza Strip.
IDF: Terrorists operating from populated areas
One week ago, missiles fired by an aircraft killed eight Palestinian civilians, as well as members of the Islamic Jihad. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, saying that it was "terror sponsored by the State."
IAF officials later claimed that hurting civilians was unavoidable, as they were only noticed after the missiles were fired and there was not enough time to change the missiles course.
Wrecked car (Photo: AP)
"The Air Force was and is considerably involved in the IDF's operations in the Gaza Strip," a senior official told Ynet. "In every operation, the targets are only terror activists. Great efforts are exerted in order not to hurt those who are not involved. Sometimes the efforts are unprecedented."
"We have also had some accomplishments, as the number of innocent casualties in IAF operations has dropped significantly in recent years. We must remembers that the operations are carried out in populated areas because that is where the terrorists are operating. They are the ones endangering the population. We are trying to neutralize it and only hurt them. The incident is under an initial inquiry," the official added.
A statement released by the IDF Spokesperson's Office after the operation said that "in a security forces operation in the northern Gaza Strip, the IDF launched an air strike on a car carrying a group of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades organization, which has been involved these days in carrying out several terror attack."
"The operation was carried out following the ongoing rocket fire at Israel, in spite of the warning conveyed to the Palestinian Authority to halt the fire. The IDF is determined to continue to firmly operate against the terror cells regardless of their organizational affiliation. The responsibility for the continued rocket fire lies with the Palestinian Authority leadership and the Hamas government," the statement added.
Hanan Greenberg and AP contributed to the report