Israeli Rights Group Blasts Military

Israeli soldiers fired indiscriminately and without justification at civilians and paramedics in the Gaza Strip earlier this week and apparently used illegal anti-personnel shells in the incident, an Israeli human rights group said Wednesday.

The Israeli fire left three Palestinian civilians dead and four wounded, including three children, ages 4, 11 and 16. One of the dead was a 17-year-old girl.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the report by the Betselem group which sent a fieldworker to the take statements from survivors.

Betselem said it suspected the army used so-called Flechette tank shells, which are packed with thousands of darts for greater deadliness. In the current conditions of Gaza, the use of Flechette shells is illegal, Betselem said.

A Betselem fieldworker found a large number of such darts at the scene of the shooting, the report said.

The Israeli army has admitted using Flechette shells in the past.

The shooting took place on Monday evening near the Jewish settlement of Morag and the Palestinian town of Khan Yunis, in an area called Kizan a-Nijar, where Palestinian families live in tin shacks.

The incident began when soldiers shot at two armed Palestinians spotted near Morag's greenhouses, killing one, Betselem said. The other militant fled the scene.

Soldiers directed intensive gunfire at the nearby Palestinian residential area, killing a farmer who was hit as he ran from shack to shack seeking cover, the report said.

Troops also fired tank shells toward Palestinian shacks, Betselem said.

In one, Sami Bahabsa huddled with his two wives and seven children. One of the wives and her baby daughter fled unharmed. An 18-year-old daughter was seriously wounded, reached a neighboring shack and collapsed. Two other daughters and two sons were injured in Bahabsa's shack, but were rescued by their father, Betselem wrote.

With his second wife and 17-year-old daughter still in the shack under fire, Bahabsa tried to make one more rescue run, but was held back by heavy fire, the report said. Instead, he remained near an ambulance close to the scene.

Soldiers then fired at the ambulance that tried to reach the shack, shattering its windshield and forcing the driver to leave the area, Betselem said. The next morning, Bahabsa reached the home to find his wife and daughter dead.

"The army intentionally fired shells toward inhabited houses," Betselem wrote. "The shelling was conducted in complete disregard to the danger it posed civilians."

The group called on the army to open an investigation against the soldiers involved.