IDF Rules Out Artillery Fire in Gaza Beach Deaths

Army inquiry examined shrapnel taken from wounded Palestinians.

An exhaustive examination of two pieces of shrapnel, which were extracted from Palestinians wounded in an explosion on the Beit Lahia coast in Gaza, conclusively prove that the shards did not originate from a 155-mm shell used by the Israel Defense Forces' artillery corps on the day of the incident, an internal IDF commission of inquiry said Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters at a Tel Aviv news conference, the head of the commission, IDF Major General Meir Kalifi, said he is convinced that the seven members of the Ghalia family who were killed did not die as a result of IDF artillery fire from that day.

Nonetheless, Kalifi said the investigation into the real reasons behind the explosion continues. As such, Kalifi cited two main possibilities which the IDF is considering caused the explosion: an explosive device planted by Palestinians for the purpose of tripping up IDF troops operating in the area, or a dud from Israeli ammunition fired in the past.

IDF Lieutenant Colonel Eren Toval, who supervised lab tests of the two pieces of shrapnel, said the shards did include high levels of explosives although their quality remains unknown. Kalifi added that explosives of this kind are employed by the IDF as well as by Palestinian armed groups.

Kalifi said he met two days ago with Marc Garlasco, an American representative of Human Rights Watch who conducted his own investigation of the incident.

Kalifi said Garlasco's findings are circumstantial ones which do not prove that an IDF shell which was fired at the site was what caused the explosion.

Kalifi said the shards of shrapnel which Garlasco collected were found some 200 meters from the spot of the explosion and thus do not prove that it was an IDF shell which hit the family.

"We admitted that we fired ammunition at the spot in the past," Kalifi said.

Human Rights Watch accused the IDF on Wednesday of ignoring evidence that challenges its decision to clear the military of blame for a blast that killed seven Palestinians on a Gaza beach.

The deaths on June 9, a day of heavy Israeli shelling designed to stop militants firing rockets from Gaza, drew international condemnation and prompted the ruling Palestinian Islamist group Hamas to call off a 16-month-old truce.

The IDF made no official comment on the accusations from U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, which has carried out its own probe into the explosion that killed seven family members on an outing to the beach.

But an IDF source said there were "significant flaws" in evidence Human Rights Watch presented during a meeting this week with the general who led the investigation.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said the IDF had excluded all evidence gathered by other sources. It had either called into question or declined to accept evidence collected by the group, the statement said.

"An investigation that refuses to look at contradictory evidence can hardly be considered credible," Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, said.

"The IDF's partisan approach highlights the need for an independent, international investigation."

Israel has ruled out an international probe.

The IDF has said shelling of the area, in response to rocket fire into Israel, had ended before the beach blast. Retrieved shrapnel samples also ruled out the possibility of a direct IDF artillery barrage, it said.

But evidence collected by Human Rights Watch researchers indicated the civilians were killed within the time period of the shelling, the statement said. That evidence included computerized and hand-written hospital records showing the time when some of the wounded were admitted.

The IDF source said the investigating general told Human Rights Watch the army had accounted for all shells fired during that time period.

He said much of the group's evidence, such as shrapnel, was obtained from third parties or not collected at the scene.

"As such, there are significant flaws with the credibility of much of the evidence," the source said.

The Human Rights Watch statement follows a report by Israeli television on Tuesday which said the delayed explosion of a dud Israeli shell may have killed the beachgoers.

The army has not ruled this out.

Hamas has blamed Israel for the explosion and violence has surged since then. Three children were killed on Tuesday in an Israeli air strike against militants behind rocket fire. The militants escaped.

Ichilov Hospital: Shrapnel removed from body of Palestinian According to a statement released Tuesday by Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, one of the Palestinians injured in an explosion on the Beit Lahia beach in Gaza almost two weeks ago arrived for treatment at the hospital after shrapnel had already been removed from her body.

There had been no medical reason to remove the shrapnel from the body of Iham Rahlia, 21, the hospital said. She had been treated first at the Shifa hospital in Gaza before being transferred in serious condition to Ichilov, where doctors were surprised to find no shrapnel in her body despite the indicative wounds.

Ichilov said in a statement that this did not correlate with the hundreds of cases of wounded people who arrive at the hospital with shrapnel still in their bodies.

"The customary medical treatment is not to search or remove the shrapnel, unless it is immediately life-endangering," wrote the hospital. "This is also the reason that shrapnel remains in the bodies of wounded people sometimes for their entire lives."