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Last Updated: Friday, 31 August 2007, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Gaza children deaths 'accident'
The Israeli military has said a tank fired at three Palestinian children who were killed in Gaza on Tuesday because troops mistook them for militants.

The three cousins - two boys aged 10 and 12, and a 12-year-old girl - were playing near rocket launchers outside Beit Hanun, a military statement said.

An internal army investigation found soldiers had detected "unidentified movement and opened fire", it added.

The army initially said militants had sent the children to get the launchers.

Both the Israeli military and Palestinian witnesses have said children have been used to retrieve launchers after rockets have been fired.

Surveillance footage

But army aerial surveillance videos of the incident proved the children were simply playing tag.

"They were playing right next to the launchers, including touching them," the army statement said.

At the very last second, it was apparent that they were children, but it was impossible to stop the explosion
Israeli army statement

The soldiers used the aerial video to direct the tank fire, the army said.

"At the very last second, it was apparent that they were children, but it was impossible to stop the explosion," it added.

Israeli troops near the Gaza Strip are ordered to only fire at rocket launchers when militants approach them, as the launchers are cheap and easily replaceable.

Two other children were killed in a similar incident last week, when soldiers fired at figures near a rocket launcher.

Daoud Dirawi, a Palestinian human rights lawyer, said both Israel and the militants were culpable for the deaths.

"Israel certainly bears responsibility for attacking civilian areas, and killing civilians is a war crime," he told the Associated Press

"At the same time, the Palestinian factions bear responsibility for avoiding any harm to Palestinian civilians and children in their military operations. Having children next to the rocket launchers endangers the children."

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