Posted on Fri, Jan. 02, 2009
last updated: January 02, 2009 05:18:13 PM
JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says that it's taking extraordinary steps to minimize civilian deaths in its weeklong campaign of airstrikes meant to undermine Hamas rulers in the Gaza Strip.
Human rights groups say, however, that one attack that Israel claims killed eight "terror operatives" loading a truck with Grad rockets instead killed Palestinian workers who were salvaging oxygen tanks from a welding shop.
"I'm not carrying Grads," said Emad Abdullah Samour, the owner of the truck that the Israeli missile targeted in Gaza City last Sunday. "I don't care about Grads."
Video of the attack has become the most widely viewed so far on the Israeli military's new YouTube channel.
The black-and-white, 160-second video, recorded by an aerial target-tracking camera, shows a group of men loading long tubes or cylinders onto a flatbed truck. The Israeli military contends that the men are "terror operatives" loading crude rockets.
"We know there were Grad rockets being loaded onto the truck at the time," said Capt. Elie Isaacson, an Israeli military spokesman.
Samour said that he, his sons and his workers were salvaging metal and oxygen tanks from his welding shop, which was next to a building that a previous Israeli airstrike had destroyed.
He said the group had loaded several tanks before the missile hit. One son, Samour said, was among the eight people who were killed.
Soon after the attack, a Gaza-based worker with the Israeli human-rights group B'Tselem took photos of the truck and the charred oxygen tanks.
"We don't know exactly what happened, but we think this needs to be the subject of an independent investigation," said Sarit Michaeli, a B'Tselem spokeswoman.
Israel has hit more than 400 targets since the airstrikes began last Saturday. The attacks have killed more than 400 Palestinians and wounded 2,000, according to Gaza medical officials. Of that number, the United Nations estimates, a quarter have been civilians.
The strikes have targeted mosques that the Israeli military claimed were being used to store rockets, the Palestinian Authority parliament building in Gaza City, police offices, government buildings, the homes of Hamas leaders and hundreds of other sites.
B'Tselem's call for an investigation is being backed by Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon intelligence analyst who oversaw Pentagon airstrike targeting in 2003 during the Iraq war.
"Just because someone is carrying something long doesn't mean it is a rocket," said Garlasco, who's now a senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch.
Had the truck been loaded with powerful rockets, Garlasco said, it probably would have been obliterated. Instead, photos from the scene show the shell of the truck and scattered oxygen tanks.
"This case highlights the complexity of targeting in urban areas," Garlasco said. "Even when the commander is certain of his target based on active observation, this shows they can be mistaken. . . . It is difficult to know what your target is."
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