Iman al-Hams, 13, was shot 20 times on 5 October as she walked past an Israeli military outpost on the way to school in Rafah, a refugee camp on Gaza’s border with Egypt.

The area has seen much violence during the four-year-old Palestinian intifada.

“Israeli soldiers stormed the area, the girl left the bag and tried to run,” Umar Abu Khalifa, 25, a Palestinian witness who lives nearby, said on Monday.

“Bullets hit the [girl’s] bag and then soldiers opened fire on the girl.”

An Israeli military source said: “The soldiers fired warning shots into the air. The figure dropped the bag and fled. The soldiers had no way of knowing it was a girl. The soldiers then fired at and hit the figure.

“The outcome was grave and regrettable.”

Coup de grace

But Israeli media, quoting unnamed soldiers at the scene, disputed the official military explanation and said the girl was shot at close range with the outpost commander even delivering a “coup de grace” to ensure she was dead.

The army says it thought the girl may have
been sent by fighters

“There was a lot of shooting, but I did not take part. To me it [the figure fired at] looked like a girl,” a soldier, whose identity was withheld, said on Israel’s Channel 2 television.

A military source said an inquiry into Hams’ death was under way but “it is too early to speak of criminal charges”.

Lieutenant-General Moshe Yaalon, the chief of army staff, told Israeli ministers on Sunday that troops at the outpost believed the girl had been sent by Rafah fighters to lure them outdoors so they could be picked off by snipers.

Human rights groups regularly accuse Israeli troops of excessive force against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and say few abuses are prosecuted.

Hams’ family had little faith in the Israeli inquiry.

“We demand the prosecution of Iman’s killer, [but] we do not trust the Israeli judicial system,” the girl’s older brother, Ihab, said.

“My sister was an innocent little girl.”

Olive harvest shooting

Elsewhere, an Israeli soldier shot and critically wounded a Palestinian farmer on Monday during a clash over an olive orchard, witnesses said.

The attack appeared to signal that violence would again accompany the West Bank olive harvest this year.