Up to nine civilians (mostly from one family) were killed, and as many as 18 people were injured, in an alleged Israeli artillery strike on the Al Dhahra area in eastern Beit Hanoun on May 10th, 2021. The Israeli military however reportedly denied responsibility for the strike, claiming that the deaths were caused by a Palestinian rocket launch that went awry.
At least four of the dead were children from the al-Masri family. They were identified by a cousin, 14-year-old Ibrahim, as brothers Ibrahim and Marwan and their cousins Rahaf and Yazan. Another family member, 22-year-old Ahmed, died the following day from injuries sustained in the blast. Ahmed was due to be married in less than a week.
A further two children were also reported to have been killed in the same incident, with Defence for Children – Palestine naming 11-year-old Hussein Muneer Hussein Hamad and 16-year-old Ibrahim Abdullah Mohammad Hassanain as among the dead. AFP interviewed Hamad’s father at his funeral, who said the al Masri family were their neighbours.
Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, alongside two other sources, also named Mohammed Ali Mohammed Nusseir as a victim of the strike. He was aged between 20 and 24 years of age. The Israeli Defense Forces listed Nusseir as “eliminated” by IDF forces and referred to him as “active in the terrorist organization Hamas”. However, Jalal, Nusseir’s brother, told Human Rights Watch that Nusseir did not belong to an armed group. According to his brother, Nusseir made an income buying and selling barley from a horse and cart and the al-Masri family were a regular supplier of his. Two people interviewed for the report said that one of the reasons so many children were killed in the strike was that they had crowded around Nusseir’s horse when it arrived at the al-Masri homes.
On July 27th 2021, Human Rights Watch published a report in which they said “an Israeli-guided missile” struck the residence of the al-Masri family in Beit Hanoun on May 10th. As part of their investigation, Human Rights Watch visited the location on three occasions and interviewed seven members of the al-Masri family, including three relatives of two people also killed in the strike. Interviewees told Human Rights Watch the attack happened shortly after 6 p.m. when family members were packing processed barley into sacks to sell to Mohammed Nusseir.
Ibrahim, the al-Masri cousin, witnessed the incident. According to his account to AFP, two of the boys had been filling sacks of straw to sell at a livestock market when the strike hit. Along with his cousins he was putting the sacks onto a cart at the time. “We were laughing and having fun, when suddenly they began to bomb us, everything around us caught fire,” he said. “I saw my cousins set alight, and torn into pieces.”
Four of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they saw the missile approach moments before the strike. Mohammed Attallah’s son, Mohammed Mohammed said: “I was with my brothers, packing barley into sacks. Suddenly, I saw something coming toward us from the east. When I first saw it, it was high in the air. Then it gradually descended as it came in our direction. It exploded about one meter from the ground. Something hit me in the eye, the abdomen, and legs. I flew into the air and landed on the ground. I didn’t lose consciousness. I saw that my brother Ahmed, my sister Rahaf, and my nephew Yazan were dead. Their bodies were all torn up. It was awful.” Ihsan al-Zaneen 29, who was sitting outside her parents’ house when the attack happened, said he saw “a missile” coming through the air “from the east” prior to the explosion. Ahed Hassanein, 12, who was standing on the roof of his house at the time said he saw a “big mass come from the Nahal Oz area” in Israel, an area about 7.5 kilometers southeast of Beit Hanoun, before it exploded nearby. Ghassan al-Masri, 24 , who was injured in the attack, said that he was facing east when he saw something coming from the southeast that was “flying low and quietly towards the group which then exploded in the air close to the ground.”
Human Rights Watch said remnants of the munition, photographed on the morning of May 11th, indicate that the weapon used was a type of guided missile. The lack of an impact crater also suggested the munition detonated in mid-air.
Youssef al-Masri, the father of brothers Ibrahim and Marwan, said the strike had been targeting a motorcycle that was passing by. “The children were playing with their cousins in front of the house when a man on a motorcycle passed by, and the occupation targeted him twice.” Al-Masri added, “I cannot find any justification whatsoever for targeting someone passing through overcrowded civilian neighbourhoods where dozens of children usually play.”
Other sources asserted that the strike hit a house, which Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights said belonged to Attallah Al-Masri. This included Haaretz, which were told by witnesses that the children had been playing close to their house in a plaza which was around 800 metres from the border fence. Human Rights Watch concluded that damage caused to two of the four al-Masri houses occurred after the attack on May 10th.
While the accounts differed slightly, none appeared to be contradictory. A neighbour of the Al Masri family, Ahmed Nasser, described the chaos of the scene to a Middle East Eye reporter. “We were preparing for Iftar, and children and youths were sitting in the neighbourhood, before a massive explosion, followed by another one, suddenly rocked the street,” he said. “I ran out to the street and the scene was horrific. Children were killed and young men were bleeding. Mothers were crying and screaming while the [targeted] motorcycle and its driver were on fire.”
Middle East Eye reported eyewitnesses telling them the airstrikes hit “crowded neighbourhoods after armed Palestinian groups at the eastern Gaza border targeted an Israeli military vehicle with a Kornet missile, and launched a barrage of rockets towards Israel.” Four witnesses, interviewed by Human Rights Watch, said that shortly before the attack they had heard one or more munitions being launched into Israel from Gaza. However, Human Rights Watch said they found no evidence that any of the victims were combatants, nor were there any military target at or near the site of the strike.
Eighteen other residents were reportedly injured in the incident, among them a woman and 10 children, Haaretz and Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights reported. Medical staff at Beit Hanoun said three of the victims were in a serious condition, while the others sustained light to moderate injuries. Three additional houses were reportedly damaged.
Additional members of the al-Masri family were identified as among the injured by Facebook user Kamil AJ – Othman Issa Othman Al-Masri, Israa Rafiq Fayek Al-Masri and Ghassan Muhammad Atallah Al-Masri, alongside Nabil Muhammad Hani Shabat, Hani Mohamed Hani Shabat, Jamil Muhammad Hani Shabat, Hossam Ali Mahmoud Naseer and Mahmoud Hussam Ali Naseer.
Family members expressed their devastation to reporters following the strike. Ibrahim al-Masri, the cousin who witnessed the incident said, “Why did they leave me? I would have wanted to die as a martyr like them.” Abu Hussein Hamad, the father of Hamad, sobbed to reporters that he’d promised to buy him new shoes for the Eid celebrations. “What did this innocent child do?” he asked.
While almost all sources blamed an Israeli targeted strike for the civilian deaths, the Times of Israel – citing Channel 12 News – asserted that “the IDF is denying responsibility for the kids’ deaths, saying they were killed in a rocket launch at Israel that went awry.” And YNET reported that “The IDF claims that intelligence tests conducted during the day show that six Gazan children were killed with certainty by failed launches by Palestinian Islamic Jihad since the beginning of the escalation round.”
The ages for the children differed. Yazan was reported by one source as three months old but most identified him as two-years-old, while Marwan was aged between seven and ten and Ibrahim between 11 and 14.
The New York Times shared an image of Ibrahim al-Masri, which Defence for Children International – Palestine said was Ibrahim Abdullah Mohammad Hassanain, who also died in this incident. It is unclear which source is correct.
The organization, NGO Monitor, said discrepancies in reporting on the type of munition used in the strike by the likes of PCHR, Al Haq and Al Mezan strongly suggested the casualties were the result of a Palestinian rocket that fell short inside Gaza.
The incident occured at approximately 6:10 pm local time.