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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How did the baby Omar Mishrawi die?

One of the most iconic - and tragic - photos from the current fighting in Gaza is surely this one, showing BBC Arabic journalist Jihad Mishrawi mourning his dead son:



PCHR described the incident this way:

[At 16:15] an Israeli warplane fired a missile at a house belonging to Ali Nemer al-Masharawi in al-Zaytoun neighborhood in the east of Gaza City. Two members of the family (a woman and a toddler) were killed: Hiba Aadel Fadel al-Masharawi, 19, and Omar Jihad al-Masharawi, 11 months.

Electronic Intifada reported this as a "missile strike" but described it this way:
According to neighbors and witnesses, a mass of fire hit the roof of the Masharawi family home in a densely packed area in southern Gaza City.

“Our area is void of any suspicious activity and I can assure you there are no armed persons here and the area is always calm and inhabitants know each other,” Jihad said, showing the missile’s damage to his home. “I never imagined that my home would be an Israeli target. Why has it been hit?”

The Washington Post looked deeper into the story:
An Israeli round hit Misharawi’s four-room home in Gaza Wednesday, killing his son, according to BBC Middle East bureau chief Paul Danahar, who arrived in Gaza earlier Thursday. Misharawi’s sister-in-law was also killed, and his brother wounded. Misharawi told Danahar that, when the round landed, there was no fighting in his residential neighborhood.

“We’re all one team in Gaza,” Danahar told me, saying that Misharawi is a BBC video and photo editor. After spending a “few hours” with his grieving colleague, he wrote on Twitter, ”Questioned asked here is: if Israel can kill a man riding on a moving motorbike (as they did last month) how did Jihad’s son get killed.

Danahar also shared the following photos of Misharawi’s small Gaza home, which appears to have been heavily damaged. The place where the round punctured his ceiling is clearly visible.



In the first picture, doesn't the hole in the ceiling look a lot like what Qassam rocket damage looks like when they hit homes in Israel?

I am far from a munitions expert, but these photos look nothing like the damage to Gaza buildings from purposeful Israeli airstrikes that we've seen over the past week.

On Wednesday, when Omar was killed, the media was not attuned to the idea that Hamas rockets sometimes fall short. As the comments above show, even the Arabs living there were wondering how Israel with its pinpoint accuracy could have failed so badly - yet no one considered that this could have been because of Hamas rockets falling short, as was the case with Mahmoud Sadallah.

I received an email from someone with serious military experience. Here is the analysis:
First of all, Israel isn’t using incendiary weapons, and won’t, so any “mass of fire” that hits anyone is going to be a secondary effect from the original high-explosive effect, and will involve something like a propane container, chemical container, etc. Israeli bombs and air-to-surface missiles don’t produce masses of fire hitting people’s roofs.

Second, if the “round” of an Israeli weapon had literally come through the roof where the hole is visible in the photo, there’d be no house to take pictures of now. Compare the photos of the Masharawi house with the photos of the wreckage of the Al-Dalu (Doula) house. Then compare the Masharawi photos with photos of the Israeli homes hit by Hamas rockets.
Dalu home
Qassam damage in Israel

This isn't definitive, of course, and there are other things to consider, like whether Hamas rockets were flying at the time. [Which they most definitely were on the first day of the operation - EoZ].

OK, now I’m looking at the second photo of damage. If the blast from an Israeli weapon had occurred inside this home, the wood on the windows would be entirely gone. No trace left. The walls wouldn’t be intact. Their top portions, at least, would be a pile of rubble around the base of the wall. The iron grilles on the windows would probably be lying on the ground somewhere.

The story doesn’t hang together. An Israeli bomb could not have penetrated the roof of this structure, then exploded, and have left the structure looking as it does: charred on some surfaces, but still intact.

I note that a Hamas rocket could have done exactly this damage, including the projectile-through-the-roof feature. There are other conceivable scenarios in which secondary damage could have been done by an Israeli hit nearby, but in no case would it have been possible for an Israeli weapon to penetrate the roof as described, and then do nothing more than char the surfaces and rearrange the furniture.

I want to stress that I am not nearly as certain about this as I was about Mahmoud Sadallah. But to my mind, this appears far more consistent with a Hamas rocket that then ignited something highly flammable inside the house. Most Gaza homes rely on propane heaters and gasoline-powered generators, and they have to keep the fuel somewhere - in fact, unless I'm mistaken, there appears to be a damaged fuel can on the top shelf of the first photo from inside the house above.

A lot has happened since then and it seems doubtful that anyone is going to revisit this on the ground, but someone should at least ask Paul Danahar from the BBC whether he even considered that this could have been the work of an errant Gaza rocket.

And if not - why does he rule it out?