Israeli military personnel have been cleared by an internal investigation of any wrongdoing in an air force attack on the port of Gaza City that killed four Palestinian boys during last summer's war on Hamas in Gaza.
However, one of the investigation's fundamental findings is very much in question.
Israel's Military Advocate General, after reviewing the investigation's findings, "found that the attack process in question accorded with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements," said military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner in a lengthy statement on his Facebook page.
The inquiry had been called following a public outcry that the four boys, all between the age of nine and 11, had been struck down apparently while they played. It was, perhaps, the most tragic of all events in a 50-day war that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and 72 Israelis.
I remember the attack vividly. I had arrived in Gaza that day, July 16, to report on the conflict and was meeting with my fixer/interpreter on the patio of the al-Deira Hotel, a modest place frequented by journalists.
I had just sat down at a table overlooking the beach, when a deafening blast shook the ground. A ball of black smoke billowed into the air above the port area less than 300 metres away. Another blast followed. My fixer told me it was a lucky thing the port was closed that day – the Israelis had refused to allow any fishermen to venture out. "No one's there," he said.
But, apparently because the place was empty, a group of boys from the nearby Beach Camp for refugees had gone into the port area to explore and play soccer on the sand. There, they were mistaken for Hamas militants.
The Israeli investigation showed that one was killed as he entered the remains of a container, said to be part of a Hamas military storage area, and the three others were killed as they ran away.
Four wounded people, three of them children, were brought up to the al-Deira where they were treated by staff until ambulances arrived. All survived, including a 13-year-old with a piece of shrapnel embedded in his chest.
In the Israeli investigation, testimonies were said to have been collected from "a large number of IDF soldiers and officers who were involved in the planning and execution of the attack."
Its conclusion ultimately rested on this finding of fact: that the place in which the boys were killed had "long been known as a compound belonging to Hamas's Naval Police and Naval Force (including naval commandos), and which was utilized exclusively by militants," wrote Lt. Col. Lerner.
It was for this reason, the Advocate General ruled, that the Israeli military could reasonably assume that any people in the compound were militants. It was a matter of mistaken identity – a "tragic accident" – he said.
However, the compound in question, which investigators described as spanning "the length of the breakwater of the Gaza City seashore," was used more by fisherman than by anyone else.
As satellite images show, numerous boats are tied up along the perimeter of the compound. They are fishing boats, not Hamas naval vessels. That is the case today, and it was the case last July 16 when the attack in question took place.
Any people in this area would most likely be fishermen, or children, not militants.
The Israeli investigation reported that "shortly before the incident, an intelligence assessment was established which indicated that operatives from Hamas's Naval Forces would gather in the military compound in order to prepare for military activity against the IDF."
"Aerial surveillance," investigators said, "identified a number of figures entering the compound at a running pace." These figures entered the military storage area that had been shelled just the day before.
At no point during the incident were these "figures" identified as children, the investigation concluded.
Against the backdrop of the intelligence assessment, "it was decided to conduct an aerial attack against the figures which had been identified, after all the necessary authorizations for an attack had been obtained, and after a civilian presence in the area had been ruled out," the investigators reported.
Video footage documenting the attack in real time also was reviewed, as were media images and video footage documenting parts of the incident, Lt. Col. Lerner said.
As well, "efforts were made to collect the testimonies of Gaza Strip residents who were, allegedly, witnesses to the incident," he said. "Regretfully," the spokesman said, "the witnesses eventually declined to meet the investigators, and instead provided affidavits in regard to the incident."
The father of one of the four boys said Friday he was outraged that the Israeli military was closing its internal inquiry without any indictments.
He told Associated Press he hopes the International Criminal Court, which is in the preliminary stage of investigation following a request by the Palestinian Authority, will reach a different conclusion.
Israel has, in the past, pointed to the credibility of its internal investigations as evidence that the involvement of the ICC is unnecessary.