Watch above: NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin speaks to Dawna Friesen about the Israeli attack that killed four young boys on a beach in the Gaza Strip.
Foreign journalists were among the witnesses to an apparent Israeli strike that killed at least four Palestinian children on a beach in the Gaza Strip.
The shelling of the beach in the city of Khan Yunis Wednesday afternoon reportedly came from an Israeli Navy vessel.
Video posted on YouTube by Gaza-based Zain Media Production captured medics and bystanders racing from the beach, carrying the bodies of severely wounded children from the still-smoking pier where the assault began.
The deaths of the four boys, along with two other children reportedly killed in airstrikes Wednesday, brings the reported number of children killed in the Gaza Strip in the past nine days to at least 43.
Many of those among the 220 dead in the Gaza strip since July 8, when Israel began launching airstrikes in retaliation for Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket fire at Israeli cities, have been civilian.
The deceased boys, all between the ages of nine and 11 and all cousins from the Bakr family according to Ma’an News Agency, were reportedly playing soccer on the beach when the attack began.
“The first strike hit at around 1300 GMT (4 p.m. local time), prompting terrified children and adults on the beach to scatter. A second and third struck as they ran, setting fire to huts on the beach,” Agence France-Presse’s Sara Hussein wrote. “The strikes appeared to be the result of shelling by the Israeli navy against an area with small shacks used by fishermen.”
Hussein, along with The Washington Post‘s William Booth and The Guardian‘s Peter Beaumont, saw the attack and the aftermath.
“There is a deafening explosion as it hits a structure on the pier, a place we have seen hit before, where fishermen usually store their nets. Behind the smoke, I see four figures running, silhouettes whose legs are pumping raggedly. They clear the smoke. From their size it is clear they are a man and three young boys,” Beaumont wrote in his account of the attack seen from the al-Deira hotel, where foreign correspondents covering the situation in Gaza have been staying.
The three children and man he saw running were survivors of the first blast, Beaumont reported, adding he wasn’t aware until later that four other children were already dead.
Beaumont wrote the survivors fleeing the attack were targeted by a second shell, injuring them as they fled to safety.
“As it explodes, my colleagues, now standing by the terrace wall, shout at unseen Israeli gunners who can’t hear them: ‘They are only children,'” he wrote.
Hotel staff, reporters and translators helped bring the three boys and the man into the hotel, where first aid was performed.
“Two young terrified kids were bleeding and injured, and they were quickly bandaged on the floor of the terrace, where guests usually eat skewers of grilled chicken, suck on water pipes and watch the sun go down,” The Washington Post‘s Booth explained in his dispatch. “The kids suffered from shrapnel wounds, one to the head, one to the chest.”
NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin was at the Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City, where members of the Bakr family found out about the deaths of the boys.
He posted on Twitter he had been “kicking a ball” with them moments before they died.
Mohyeldin posted this video on Facebook of the moments one mother found out about her son.
The bodies of the four boys were taken to a mosque for a funeral, just hours after the attack, and to be buried.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) said it is investigating the death of the four boys, according to Haaretz. The Israeli news agency cited senior IDF officials saying it appeared “the children were killed by an air strike that targeted Hamas militants” and the IDF would look at whether the attack on the beach was the result of “misinformation” or if the strike missed an intended target.
According to a witness to the attack, there were no such signs at the beach.
Another witness who identified himself only as Abu Ahmed told The Associated Press the boys were scavenging for scrap metal when a first shell hit a nearby shipping container used in the past by Hamas security forces. He said the boys fled but a second rocket “hit all of them.”
The IDF, in a post on its blog Wednesday, outlined how it warns civilians of imminent attacks on buildings to “minimize harm.”
The assault came a day after Hamas rejected an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire and the Israeli Air Force peppered areas of northern Gaza and sent text messages to warn 100,000 people to evacuate their homes ahead of strikes on “terror sites and operatives.”
The Times of Israel reported Wednesday evening the IDF named Maj. Gen Noam Tibon to “investigate all Israeli Strikes on the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge in which noncombatants were killed.”
Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields and encouraging Gazans to take to rooftops ahead of airstrikes, as well as firing rockets from civilian areas.
Israel recorded its first civilian death related to rocket fire from Gaza on Tuesday— 37-year-old Dhor Kenin, who was reportedly delivering food to IDF soldiers when he was mortally wounded near the Erez Crossing.