Meretz MK Gal-On Calls for International Probe of Gaza Beach Blast

IDF rejects London Times report that details on a naval shelling of the beach were erased from army's probe.

Meretz faction leader MK Zehava Gal-On called on the government Saturday to initiate the establishment of an international panel to investigate the blast that killed seven Palestinian civilians on a Gaza beach last week.

Gal-On said Israel has a "moral responsibility" to determine the true circumstances of the incident and added that Israel should be a party to the investigative commission.

"Credibility is an asset of utmost importance and Israel has an interest in maintaining her credibility," Gal-On said.

The Meretz leader also said her demand is based on the most recent findings released by the press and international human rights groups according to which the Israel Defense Forces was involved in the explosion.

The Palestinian Authority on Saturday again demanded an international probe into the incident.

The IDF on Saturday rejected a report in London's Times indicating the army erased details from its probe into the deadly Gaza beach blast that killed seven members of one family.

According to the British newspaper, the IDF deleted from its report details concerning shelling of the beach by Israel Navy vessels off the Gaza coast.

The IDF Spokespersons Unit said the Times made use of partial information and added that the quote in its story attributed to an IDF officer was inaccurate and taken out of context.

The IDF investigation team last week concluded "beyond all doubt" that the family was not hurt as a result of Israeli shelling.

The head of the investigation, Major-General Meir Klifi, said late last week that it is likely the blast stemmed from a bomb placed by the Palestinians at the site or "some form of unexploded ordnance." He added that the probe on the latter point was continuing.

The IDF emphasized again Saturday it was not responsible for the deaths of seven members of the Palestinian family - neither due to artillery fire from the sea nor from land-based artillery units. It also ruled out the possibility the blast was caused by an air strike.

According to the Times report, IDF officers admitted that two artillery shells were fired from a naval vessel between 4:24 P.M. and 4:55 P.M. - around the time the Palestinians were killed. The Times report maintained this fact was not included in the IDF investigation into the incident.

The Times also reported the IDF officers said these shells landed a large distance from the Gaza beach.

The IDF last week rejected the possibility that the Palestinians were hit by shells fired from a navy ship, since shelling in the area only took place earlier in the day.

According to the Times, the United Nations received a radio call from one of its officials in northern Gaza at 4:43 P.M.

"At 4:33 P.M. IDF artillery shelling has started again targeting the northern area, two artillery shells so far. One of the shells fell down at the coast west of the evacuated old Dugit settlement, some casualties among the people spending their day at the..." the Times quoted the report as saying.

Presented with the evidence of the UN transmission, Klifi said the 4:33 P.M. report was an earlier incident, near the abandoned settlement of Dugit. "[We] know of a request from the Red Cross to the Red Crescent at 4:30 P.M. regarding one wounded individual along the beach. [We] believe that that is the case you are referring to," Kalifi told the Times. "This is most likely in the Dugit area. Indeed they were shelling in the Dugit area, but the Dugit area was not near the incident. It was 700 meters away."

Klifi also said Saturday that a new examination of the scene of the blast would serve no purpose.

"I know the other [the Palestinian] side and I am aware of the manipulations of that side. It is possible to plan shrapnel fragments at the scene. If I could have made it into the field an hour or half an hour after the incident a few other things could have been examined," Klifi said.

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv late last week, in the presence of Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, Klifi said the IDF's investigation was based on intelligence, on findings shared by the Palestinians, as well as IDF records of the site and other materials.

According to the findings, the lethal blast took place between 4:57 P.M. and 5:10 P.M., nearly five minutes after the last of six artillery shells landed in an area north of the site of the explosion.

Five of the six shells had predetermined coordinates, while the sixth, and the first of the series, was found to have landed several hundred meters north of the site after the firing data was examined.

Klifi says that "the likelihood [that the shell caused the killing] is absolutely zero. There is no chance of this."

"We cannot determine what hit them," Klifi admitted. "We continue to work on this and we hope we will be able to reach a conclusion soon. It is possible that it occurred as a result of something [a bomb] that someone placed, in order to prevent operations by our forces."

Klifi was hinting at the possibility that the IDF held intelligence information on the fact that Hamas had placed mines and other booby-traps on the beach in order to prevent raids by naval commandos.

"There are still things that must be clarified. We do not know with certainty," he said.

Among the most important findings of the IDF is the shrapnel removed from the body of one of the victims being treated at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. The metal was examined at a lab in the Technion University in Haifa and was confirmed not to originate from a 155 millimeter shell, the type fired by the artillery unit involved in shelling earlier.

The material was identified as not being in standard IDF usage.