JERUSALEM – A video of an Israeli missile strike in a Gaza refugee camp shows people running in a nearby alley, and the army said Thursday it is investigating whether this could explain the high number of casualties reported by the Palestinians.
Monday's attack in the Nusseirat refugee camp (search), which left eight people dead and 70 wounded, revived debate in Israel over targeted killings, prompted in part by Palestinian claims that one missile was fired into a crowd.
A bird's-eye video provided by the military shows two missiles hitting a car as it drives along the camp's main street, which from the air appears relatively empty. The missiles strike about one minute apart.
Palestinian security officials and witnesses have said that after the first hit, bystanders rushed to the scene, and that the second missile caused most casualties. Some witnesses also reported a third missile strike.
The military has said there were only two missiles and that it did not fire into a crowd. The video shows that there is no crowd near the vehicle during the second missile hit. Military officials have said the order to strike again would not have been given had many bystanders been present.
However, a review of the video shows that after the first missile strike, camp residents began running through an alley toward the main street. People appeared as tiny black dots in the grainy, blurred footage, and there seem to be about two dozen in the alley, although it is difficult to determine the exact number.
There was little traffic on the main road — only one car passed the stricken car between the first and second missile hits — but the camera does not offer a clear view of the sidewalks and alleys, because of balconies and overhangs.
On balmy evenings, like on Monday, it is customary for Palestinians to congregate outdoors, pulling up chairs on sidewalks to chat or smoke waterpipes.
The military took the unusual step of showing the video, gathered by a drone flying overhead, at a briefing with reporters on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it distributed the video to news organizations, allowing closer inspection.
Maj. Sharon Feingold, an army spokeswoman, acknowledged Thursday that "it is a possibility" that people were in the alley at the time of the second hit.
"We are still studying it and we will draw our conclusions," she said. "We released the video to refute Palestinian claims that the road was filled with people and rescue workers. We never said that it was not possible that people were hit, people were hurt."
Asked whether the pilot of the attack helicopter would have seen the civilians in the alleys, she said: "It is usually very difficult to find or see them if they are in an alley or under a balcony."
The incident began Monday evening when Israeli troops killed two suspected Palestinian militants trying to sneak across the border fence between Gaza and Israel. The army said the two, later identified as members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (search), a radical PLO faction, had planned to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel.
Other members of the cell fled in a car that was tracked by an Israeli helicopter and was then targeted by missiles in Nusseirat. Among those in the car was another would-be suicide bomber, Israeli security officials said.
Palestinian security and hospital officials say all those killed in the camp were civilians. In apparent support of that contention, armed groups did not claim any of the dead as members, as they would normally do. Also, the military did not release "charge sheets" on any of the dead, as is customary, though officials said the majority of those killed in Nusseirat that day were militants.
The Israeli Haaretz daily reported Thursday that four of the dead, all in their 20s, belonged to PFLP, as well as Yasser Arafat's Fatah (search) faction and the Islamic militant group Hamas (search). A fifth man in his 20s, Ayoub al Malek from the nearby Boureij refugee camp, died Wednesday of his injuries. Relatives said he had been on his way to a wedding party.
The remaining three — an 11-year-old boy, a 29-year-old doctor and a 49-year-old cement factory owner — were clearly bystanders.
Thirteen of the 70 wounded were in serious condition.