The Israel Defense Forces panel looking into the deaths of seven Palestinian on the Beit Lahiya beach in the Gaza Strip, said yesterday at a press conference that tests of the two pieces of shrapnel removed from victims being treated in Israel show "beyond all doubt" that they do not come from a 155 mm artillery shell.

The 155 mm caliber shell was the type fired by IDF artillery on the day of the incident two weeks ago, and the panel's chief, Major General Meir Klifi, concluded that this is unequivocal proof that the Palestinians were not killed by IDF artillery fire.

While Klifi does not offer an alternative explanation for the blast that killed seven members of the Ghalia family, he has said that two possibilities are still being investigated: that the explosion occured as a result of a Palestinian mine or bomb, laid in anticipation of a beach-borne Israeli commando raid; or that it was unexploded Israeli ordnance.

In its examination of the shrapnel taken from two victims of the blast, the IDF used experts from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. According to the army scientific expert on the committee, Colonel Eran Tuval of the Technology Unit, the shrapnel pieces show traces of military-grade explosive; however, it did not originate from a 155 mm shell.

The explosive material could have originated in unexploded Israeli ordnance or from stolen IDF explosives.

The press conference at the General Staff in Tel Aviv yesterday, more than revealing any new findings the press conference, aimed to counter a report on Channel 10 Monday, in which reporter Shlomi Eldar said that the second piece of shrapnel examined by the IDF originated in a 155 mm shell.

Klifi attacked "the alleged shocking revelations that sought to undermine our unequivocal findings." The possibility that the deaths occured as a result of shelling by a naval gunboat or from the air was excluded in lab testing, he said.

Klifi also questioned the findings of Human Rights Watch and the American military expert Mark Garlasco.

Klifi said he spoke with Garlasco for two hours on Monday "and he does not have a single finding that can challenge my conclusions. All his findings are circumstantial."

In response to a question, Klifi said that it will not be his decision whether to allow an independent external investigation of the findings.