Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
March 11, 2013 - 12:00am

A United Nations report has suggested that a Palestinian infant who died in the fighting in Gaza last November may have been killed by an errant Palestinian rocket rather than by an Israeli airstrike as was widely believed at the time. The infant’s death quickly became a powerful symbol of the conflict.

The 11-month-old infant was the son of a BBC journalist in Gaza, Jihad al-Masharawi, and photographs of the distraught father carrying the body of his son, Omar, wrapped in a white shroud were printed in newspapers worldwide and widely distributed on social media.

At the time, Mr. Masharawi and human rights organizations attributed the deaths of Omar and two relatives on Nov. 14 to Israeli airstrikes as the military launched its attacks on Gaza.

A day after the deaths, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, based in Gaza, said the Masharawi home had been hit by a missile fired by an Israeli warplane. Human Rights Watch also said that the house had been hit by an Israeli strike, citing news reports and witnesses who spoke to the group.  

Paul Danahar, the BBC Middle East bureau chief, wrote on his Twitter account that an Israeli shell had come through the roof of the small Gaza home. Mr. Danahar visited his grieving colleague there on Nov. 15 and posted a photograph of a roundish hole in the roof of a burned-out room.

But a March 6 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the eight-day conflict, which ended with a cease-fire, stated that three people in the home — Omar, a woman and an 18-year-old youth — were most likely the victims of “what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.”

The circumstances of those deaths are likely to remain in dispute. Israel’s military has not determined whether it hit the house or not, saying it does not have clear information about what happened. The BBC has reported that privately, military officials told journalists at the time that Israel had aimed at a militant who was hiding in the building.

On Monday, the BBC News Web site said Mr. Masharawi, the journalist, called the United Nations findings “rubbish.”

A United Nations official, Matthias Behnke, told The Associated Press that he could not “unequivocally conclude” that a Palestinian rocket was responsible for the deaths.  He said information gathered from witnesses led his investigators to report that “it appeared to be attributable to a Palestinian rocket.”


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