By DIAA HADID, Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) — An errant Palestinian rocket, not an Israeli airstrike, likely killed the baby of a BBC reporter during fighting in the Hamas-ruled territory last November, a U.N. report indicated, challenging the widely believed story behind an image that became a symbol of what Palestinians said was Israeli aggression.
Omar al-Masharawi, an 11-month-old infant, was killed on Nov. 14, the first day of fighting. An Associated Press photograph showed Omar's anguished father, Jihad al-Masharawi, clutching his slain child wrapped in a shroud. Palestinians blamed Israel, and the image was broadcast around the world and widely shared on social media.
Now a report from the U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says the baby was "killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel."
Gaza's rulers, the militant Islamic group Hamas, whose fighters fired most of the rockets into Israel during the conflict, had no response Monday.
BBC officials declined to comment, and Jihad al-Masharawi said he couldn't discuss the issue. An Israeli military spokesman said they could not confirm or deny whether they hit the al-Masharawi house.
Matthias Behnke, head of OHCHR office for the Palestinian territories, cautioned he couldn't "unequivocally conclude" that the death was caused by an errantly fired Palestinian rocket. He said information gathered from eyewitnesses led them to report that "it appeared to be attributable to a Palestinian rocket."
He said Palestinian militants were firing rockets at Israel not far from the al-Masharawi home. Behnke said the area was targeted by Israeli airstrikes, but the salvo that hit the al-Masharawi home was "markedly different."
He said there was no significant damage to the house, unusual for an Israeli strike. He said witnesses reported that a fireball struck the roof of the house, suggesting it was a part of a homemade rocket. Behnke said the type of injuries sustained by al-Masharawi family members were consistent with rocket shrapnel.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights said it still held Israel responsible for Omar's death.
The PCHR has condemned Hamas fighters and other militants in the past for errantly-fired rockets that have killed Palestinians, including during the November clash.
A researcher said the group interviewed family members, neighbors and security officials before they concluded that an Israeli strike killed the baby. She requested anonymity because she wasn't authorized to speak to reporters.
The baby was killed hours following the eruption of fighting after Israel killed a top Hamas militant leader in an airstrike, in response to incessant rocket fire by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes, saying it targeted militant centers and fighters in Gaza. Palestinian militants indiscriminately fired hundreds of rockets and mortar shells toward Israel.
During the 8-day conflict, about 160 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.
The U.N. report did not name the al-Masharawi family in its one-sentence statement about the incident. Behnke, the U.N. official, said the report referred to the incident.
The report discussed the incident in the context of Palestinian militants disregarding civilians, both by firing rockets from crowded Palestinian areas and by aiming them indiscriminately into Israel.
In the same report, the authors also criticized Israel for appearing to disregard civilians while pursuing militants and military targets, and for targeting civilian sites, like hospitals, bridges and media offices.
Among many cases, they noted an 84-year-old man and his 14-year-old granddaughter were killed by an Israeli military strike on Nov. 21 while they were in their olive orchard on Gaza's eastern border. They also cited an Israeli airstrike on a crowded Gaza City neighborhood that killed 12 people, including five children and four women.