An Italian journalist who until Tuesday was embedded in Gaza has backed the IDF's account of a rocket strike on a school playground in central Gaza's Shati refugee camp on Monday.
At least 10 people were killed in the attack - most of them children - and some sources claimed the death toll was as high as 30. Palestinian sources were quick to blame Israel, claiming that an Israeli fighter jet fired missiles directly at the playground and nearby hospital. Israel denied the accusations, saying that Hamas rockets aimed at Israel from the area misfired, and struck both the school and the hospital:
IDF Tweet illustrating the path of misfired Hamas rockets:
Verifying facts on the ground in Gaza is notoriously difficult for foreign reporters, and even for Palestinian journalists seen as aligned with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, as journalists are closely watched by Hamas security forces and can face interrogation and a permanent ban from Gaza for publishing material deemed unfavorable to the territory's Islamist rulers. As such, little information has emerged on what exactly happened that day in Shati.
But returning from a stint in Gaza, and safe from what he ominously referred to as potential "Hamas retaliation", Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati broke the media silence by tweeting the following message, confirming that Hamas terrorists rushed to cover up evidence of what was indeed errant rocket fire aimed at Israel:
During the 23 days of Operation Protective Edge a handful of journalists have defied, purposefully or inadvertently, Hamas's restrictions on reporting negative information from Gaza - only to backtrack soon after.
Two cases in particular were highlighted earlier this week. In one, Wall Street Journal reported Nick Casey tweeted evidence - and veiled criticism - over Hamas's leadership's use of Shifa Hospital in Gaza as a command center, shedding more light on the group's use of human shields. Hamas reacted furiously, and a Hamas-affiliated twitter account blacklisted him as a journalist "who lies for Israel" - a potentially deadly accusation for anyone in Gaza, let alone a foreigner. Shortly afterwards, the tweet was promptly removed by Casey.
Numerous foreign journalists have admitted to interviewing Hamas leaders inside the hospital, but their reports are notable for the lack of emphasis placed on such a flagrant violation of international law.
In the second case, another WSJ journalist tweeted evidence of a Hamas rocket misfire which damaged Gaza's main hospital. Again, shortly after tweeting it, Tamer El-Ghobashi removed the evidence.
The use of human shields by Gazan terrorist groups during the current conflict has been repeatedly documented. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have stored and fired rockets from within densely-populated civilian areas, making Israeli attempts to stop them without causing collateral damage near to impossible. To compound the problem, Hamas has openly encouraged civilians to act as human shields, glorifying their actions as heroism.
Terrorists have also used hospitals and schools as command centers and military bases.
On Tuesday, the United Nations Work and Relief Agency (UNWRA) admitted that it had discovered rockets stored in one of its schools for the third time.
Hamas has not issued a response to Barbari's claims, and it is unclear whether he will face a ban from reporting from the Strip in the future. But whatever happens to him, his claims raise some uncomfortable questions about the objectivity of reports coming from Gaza - in particular the accuracy of the much-touted civilian death toll, and who may be responsible for it.