JERUSALEM — An errant Palestinian rocket, not an Israeli airstrike, likely killed the baby of a BBC reporter during fighting in the Hamas-ruled territory last November, a U.N. report indicated, challenging the widely believed story behind an image that became a symbol of what Palestinians said was Israeli aggression.
Omar al-Masharawi, an 11-month-old infant, was killed on Nov. 14, the first day of fighting. An Associated Press photograph showed Omar's anguished father, Jihad al-Masharawi, clutching his slain child wrapped in a shroud. Palestinians blamed Israel, and the image was broadcast around the world and widely shared on social media.
Now a report from the U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says the baby was "killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel."
Gaza's rulers, the militant Islamic group Hamas, whose fighters fired most of the rockets into Israel during the conflict, had no response Monday.
BBC officials declined to comment, and Jihad al-Masharawi said he couldn't discuss the issue. An Israeli military spokesman said they could not confirm or deny whether they hit the al-Masharawi house.
Matthias Behnke, head of OHCHR office for the Palestinian territories, cautioned he couldn't "unequivocally conclude" that the death was caused by an errantly fired Palestinian rocket. He said information gathered from eyewitnesses led them to report that "it appeared to be attributable to a Palestinian rocket."
He said Palestinian militants were firing rockets at Israel not far from the al-Masharawi home. Behnke said the area was targeted by Israeli airstrikes, but the salvo that hit the al-Masharawi home was "markedly different."
He said there was no significant damage to the house, unusual for an Israeli strike. He said witnesses reported that a fireball struck the roof of the house, suggesting it was a part of a homemade rocket. Behnke said the type of injuries sustained by al-Masharawi family members were consistent with rocket shrapnel.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights said it still held Israel responsible for Omar's death.
The PCHR has condemned Hamas fighters and other militants in the past for errantly-fired rockets that have killed Palestinians, including during the November clash.
A researcher said the group interviewed family members, neighbors and security officials before they concluded that an Israeli strike killed the baby. She requested anonymity because she wasn't authorized to speak to reporters.
The baby was killed hours following the eruption of fighting after Israel killed a top Hamas militant leader in an airstrike, in response to incessant rocket fire by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes, saying it targeted militant centers and fighters in Gaza. Palestinian militants indiscriminately fired hundreds of rockets and mortar shells toward Israel.
During the 8-day conflict, about 160 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.
The U.N. report did not name the al-Masharawi family in its one-sentence statement about the incident. Behnke, the U.N. official, said the report referred to the incident.
The report discussed the incident in the context of Palestinian militants disregarding civilians, both by firing rockets from crowded Palestinian areas and by aiming them indiscriminately into Israel.
In the same report, the authors also criticized Israel for appearing to disregard civilians while pursuing militants and military targets, and for targeting civilian sites, like hospitals, bridges and media offices.
Among many cases, they noted an 84-year-old man and his 14-year-old granddaughter were killed by an Israeli military strike on Nov. 21 while they were in their olive orchard on Gaza's eastern border. They also cited an Israeli airstrike on a crowded Gaza City neighborhood that killed 12 people, including five children and four women.
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March 22, 2004
After a wave of Hamas suicide bombings in Israeli cities, an Israeli missile kills Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the Hamas movement. <em>Caption: In this March 22, 2004, file photo, Palestinians gather around a pool of blood and the remains of the wheelchair of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, following an Israeli air strike that killed him, near his house in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, File)</em>
April 17, 2004
Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, the co-founder of Hamas and Yassin's successor, is killed by Israeli missile. <em>Caption: Picture taken 09 May 2002 shows Hamas political leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi talking to the press in Gaza City. (MOHAMMED SABER/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
Sept. 1, 2005
Israeli forces complete a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, captured from Egypt in the 1967 Middle East war, abandoning settlements and leaving the densely populated coastal area under the control of the Palestinian Authority. <em>Caption: Israeli troops guard an unfinished section of the border installation Israel is building November 23, 2005 along its boundary with the northern Gaza Strip. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)</em>
Jan. 25, 2006
Hamas wins majority of seats in Palestinian legislative election. Israel and United States cut off aid to Palestinians because Hamas refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel. <em>Caption: A Palestinian man reads the newspaper with pictures showing the winners of the Palestinian elections outside his shop in Jerusalem's Old City, 27 January 2006. (GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
June 25, 2006
Hamas militants launch raid into Israel from Gaza, killing two soldiers and capturing conscript Gilad Shalit. <em>Caption: Recently-freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit attends a meeting with French ambassador to Israel Christophe Bigot (not seen) at the French embassy in Tel Aviv on January 11, 2012. (JACK GUEZ/AFP/GettyImages)</em>
June 28, 2006
Israeli troops invade the Gaza Strip, but fail to find Shalit. <em>Caption: Palestinians inspect the damaged houses around the building of the Palestinian Authority Interior Ministry office after an Israeli air strike, June 30, 2006 in Gaza City, Gaza Strip. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)</em>
Nov. 26, 2006
Ceasefire in Gaza announced, ends five months of Israeli air strikes and incursions that fail to free Shalit. <em>Caption: An Israeli soldier rests next to a tank at a military staging area near Kibbutz Mefalsim, in southern Israel on the border with the Gaza Strip, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2006. (AP Photo/Oded Blilty)</em>
June 14, 2007
Hamas takes over Gaza in brief civil war with Fatah forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Rockets regularly fired into southern Israel. <em>Caption: Palestinian Fatah movement supporters chant anti-Hamas slogans during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 13 November 2007. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
April 24, 2008
Hamas leader offers Israel six-month truce in Gaza but says fate of Shalit separate issue. Talks fail to make progress but ceasefire eventually agreed. However, many rocket attacks on southern Israel recorded during truce period. <em>Caption: Hamas political leader, Khaled Mashaal talks to reporters at a press conference in Damascus,Syria, on Monday April 21, 2008. (AP photo / Bassem Tellawi).</em>
Dec. 19, 2008
Fragile six-month ceasefire expires as they fail to agree on terms to extend truce. <em>Caption: Israeli soldiers escort blindfolded Palestinian women to the Kissufim Israeli army base,after they were detained during a military operation in the Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Yehuda Lahiani)</em>
Dec. 27, 2008
Israel launches 22-day military offensive in the Gaza Strip after Palestinians fire rockets at southern Israeli town of Sderot. About 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis are killed. <em>Caption: In this Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009 file photo, smoke rises following explosions caused by Israeli military operations in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa, File)</em>
Jan. 18, 2009
Israel and Hamas cease fire in Gaza. <em>Caption: Palestinian security men stand guard on a street during the third day of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on January 20, 2009 in Gaza City, Gaza. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)</em>
April 9, 2011
The Israeli military kills top Hamas militant Tayser Abu Snima in a raid, saying he was "directly and physically involved" in Shalit's capture. <em>Caption: Palestinians pray over the body of the commander of the Islamic Hamas militant Tayser Abu Snima, 29, at the treatment room of Al Najar hospital following an Israeli air strikes on Hamas militants group in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, early Saturday, April 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)</em>
Oct. 11, 2011
Israeli and Hamas officials say a deal has been reached to swap Shalit for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Swap takes place on October 18 <em>Captions: A supporter of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit waits for Shalit's parents at their home in Mitzpe Hila, northern Israel, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)</em>
March 12, 2012
Four days of violence between Israel and Gazan militants leaves at least 25 Palestinians dead and 80 wounded. Eight people in Israel wounded. The exchanges began after two chiefs of a smaller faction were killed in an Israeli strike. <em>Caption: Palestinian girl cries during the funeral of a 12 year old Ayoub Assalya in Jabaliya Refugee Camp, in Gaza Strip, Sunday, March 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)</em>
June 23, 2012
Israel says Hamas and other groups fire more than 150 rockets at it in a week. Retaliatory airstrikes kill at least 2 Palestinians. <em>Caption: A Palestinian security police officer inspects the damage following an Israeli air strike on the building in Gaza City, early Saturday, June 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)</em>
Oct. 8, 2012
Hamas and other groups fire more than 55 rockets and mortars at southern Israel. At least one militant killed in Israeli airstrike. <em>Caption: Israeli citizens are seen through a car's windshield which was shattered when a rocket fired last night from the Gaza strip landed in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/ Tsafrir Abayov)</em>
Nov. 13, 2012
Three Palestinian militants and at least four civilians die in new round of violence. More than 115 rockets fired into southern Israel. Israeli army says more than 760 rockets have hit Israel since the start of the year. <em>Caption: A view of a destroyed house after a long-range Grad rocket fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza Strip hit in the southern Israeli town of Netivot, Sunday Sept. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)</em>
Nov. 14, 2012
Israel kills Hamas's military chief of staff; launch widespread air offensive. Warn of possible ground attack. <em>Caption: Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Edi Israel)</em>