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Journalists witness Israeli shelling that killed four Gaza children

Thomas Coex, AFP | Smoke billows from a beach hut struck by Israeli shelling

FRANCE 24 correspondent Gallagher Fenwick, along with several other journalists, witnessed the shelling by Israeli forces that killed four Palestinian children playing on a beach Wednesday off a coastal road west of Gaza City.

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In a firsthand account of the deadly strike, FRANCE 24’s special correspondent in Gaza said “a first shelling struck right front of our eyes, hitting a structure on the pier, close to the hotels where a majority of the international media is based”.

The four boys – Ahed Atef Bakr and Zakaria Ahed Bakr, both aged 10; Mohamed Ramez Bakr, 9; and Ismail Mohamed Bakr – were all cousins, said Ashraf al-Qudra, a Palestinian doctor.

Seven others – adults and children – were also reportedly wounded in the strikes.

The Guardian's Peter Beaumont in Gaza, who also witnessed the shelling, said, “Only afterwards did we discover there are four others who are dead, all children, lying on the wall. I am shown a picture of one of the dead boys, his skin scorched and bruised.”

Tyler Hicks, a staff photographer for the New York Times, tweeted: “Witnessed 3 young boys killed by Israeli ordinance [sic] on an otherwise empty beach this afternoon in Gaza City.”

Details remain unclear

It was unclear if the strikes were the result of naval shelling, which frequently hits part of the Gaza coastline, or came from Israeli war planes overhead.

Israel is reportedly 'carefully investigating' the children's deaths.

Shortly afterwards, Israel agreed to a five-hour humanitarian truce in the Gaza Strip between in force from 10:00 to 15:00 (07:00-12:00 GMT) on Thursday. Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, reportedly made the appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire after talks with Israel's Coordination Office for Government Affairs in the (Palestinian) Territories.

The four bodies of the children were later taken to Abu Hasira mosque, near where the boys had died.

The boys were laid out, wrapped in the yellow flags of the Fatah party – the Palestinian rival to the Hamas movement – in front of mourners.

‘They were playing’

Relative Khamis Bakr, 47, shook with anger as he spoke at the funeral.

"They were playing on the beach, they'd gone there to get away from Beach Camp because there was a lot of shelling there," he said. "They walked right into their deaths."

"We didn't know anything had happened, and then we heard on the radio that there had been a strike, and people from the Bakr family had been killed. And then I knew that the children were gone," said Zakaria's grandfather.

More than 214 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the nine days since the latest conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants began.

Militants in Gaza have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, killing one.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
 

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