State Dep't. Can't Place Blame for Children's Deaths in Gaza--24 Hrs After Israel Said It Was a Terrorist Rocket

By Patrick Goodenough | July 29, 2014 | 9:41 PM EDT

A Palestinian carries the body of a child at Gaza City's Shifa hospital on Monday, July 28, 2014. An explosion killed 10 people, nine of them children, at a playground at Shati refugee camp.  Israel and Hamas traded blame over the attack. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

( – State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Tuesday decried the deaths of children killed in a Gaza playground on Monday, without noting that the Israeli military almost 24 hours earlier had attributed their deaths to an errant rocket fired by terrorists.

“The reports of the children killed while playing on a playground is devastating and tragic,” she told a daily press briefing. “I don’t have more information at this point, but we certainly urge all parties to respect the civilian nature of schools and medical facilities.”

Asked whether the U.S. was ascribing the explosion to the Israeli military or “Hamas errant missiles,” Psaki replied, “We don’t have any blame to ascribe at this point in time. Obviously, these events just happened over the past 24 hours.”

Psaki made the remarks at around 1:45 PM on Tuesday.  The deadly blast at the playground in Gaza’s al-Shati refugee camp occurred early evening on Monday local time (11 AM Monday in Washington), and within two hours the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) began issuing statements attributing it to a rocket fired from Gaza toward Israel that fell short and landed inside the territory.

The IDF posted a graphic and map asserting that three rockets had been fired from the same launching site. It said one hit the Shati playground, another the nearby Al-Shifa hospital, and a third was headed in the direction of the Israeli city of Ashkelon when it was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Eight or nine children – reports differed – and two adults were killed in Shati; no deaths were reported at the hospital.

“Gaza terrorists fired rockets today, hoping to kill Israelis. Instead, they hit a hospital & a refugee camp in Gaza,” the IDF spokesman tweeted.

A news story that included the IDF attribution of blame for the al-Shati deaths on a terrorist rocket ran on page one of Tuesday’s Washington Post. On Tuesday afternoon State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the department did not “have any blame to ascribe.” (Image: Washington Post)

Hamas disputed the IDF charge, but the IDF version of events was included in multiple news reports around the world in the ensuing hours – including the Associated Press, AFP and UPI news agencies, a front page story in Tuesday’s Washington Post, and a story on page six of the front section of the New York Times.

Last week the IDF said that at least 100 of the rockets launched in Gaza since July 8 – now totaling more than 2,600 – had fallen within Gaza.

‘Eid massacre’

Monday was the first day of the end-of-Ramadan holiday of Eid al-Fitr, and some Palestinian media outlets quickly dubbed the Shati playground explosion “the Eid massacre.”

A number of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian media reports played down the IDF claim, running it far down their news stories.

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an, in a story headlined “10 Palestinians killed as Israel bombs Gaza playground,” began as follows: “Israeli forces on Monday bombed a park near the beach in Gaza City killing at least 10 Palestinians including eight children on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, medics said.”

The IDF claim that it was a terrorist rocket was carried in the sixth paragraph.

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency began its report: “At least ten Palestinian children were killed and 45 others injured on Monday by Israeli shelling of the western Gaza City Al-Shati Camp.” Again, the IDF statement was run in the sixth paragraph.

“Israeli strike kills 10 children in Gaza refugee camp” ran the headline on a report on a Middle East Eye news portal, which put the IDF denial in paragraph four.

An article in Turkey’s Hurriyet daily led with the hospital strike, and was headlined: “Israel missile hits compound housing Gaza's largest hospital.”

“Seven children were also killed when an Israeli missile slammed into a playground in a Gaza City refugee camp, a doctor at the city's main hospital said,” said the report further down, which also stated, “There was no immediate comment from the Israeli army.”

Another Turkish daily, Today’s Zaman, began its report, “An Israeli strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people Monday, nine of them children as the violence raged on despite Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.” The IDF version of events was in the fourth paragraph.

Medecins Sans Frontieres issued a statement condemning the blast at the al-Shifa hospital, where the humanitarian group has a surgical team working. The statement did not mention the Israeli claim that terrorists were responsible.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow