In a press conference with his Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, and army General Ma’er Khalefy, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz claimed that the Israeli army was not responsible for the death of eleven Palestinians, including seven members of one family, on a Gaza beach Friday, despite the fact that no Israeli investigation teams entered the Gaza Strip to examine the shelled beach.
Peretz claimed that “Israel had enough evidence to back up its claims that it was not responsible for the incident", but failed to explain what the evidence was.
Meir Klifi, the Israeli general who led the committee, said the army had been shelling areas just north of the beach but could account for every one of the rockets fired. "There is no chance that a shell hit this area. Absolutely no chance," he said. He dismissed the chance that one of the rockets may have misfired in the direction of the beach, despite the fact that no one from the army investigated any of the spots where the dozens of rockets fired supposedly landed.
Klifi said Palestinian fighters "could have placed something in the area in order to prevent operations by our forces", but the Palestinian leadership vehemently denied the Israeli claim as ‘damage control’ meant to counter the ‘bad publicity’ Israel received worldwide after Friday’s attack.
The Israeli military has been brought to court a number of times by the families of victims of Israeli attacks for issuing misleading statements to the media following such attacks. In one such case, the family of British peace activist Tom Hurndall, shot in the head and killed by Israeli soldiers in 2002 while trying to rescue small children from the line of fire, sued the Israeli military for a statement they made the day after Tom was shot in which they said he had been carrying a gun. This statement was repeated, without proof, by a number of major media, but was later revoked when it was proven to be patently false (although the revocation was not put out to the media).
About the latest Israeli statement denying responsibility for the Gaza attack Friday, Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the Hamas-led government, said that Israel was trying to "escape from shouldering responsibility" for the blast, "The eyewitnesses and the evidence that we have confirm the massacre is the result of Israeli shelling"
The eyewitness accounts of the attack Friday, which stated that a rocket fired from an Israeli naval vessel off-shore hit the crowded beach, were verified by Marc Garlasco, a military analyst for the international organization Human Rights Watch. In a press conference Tuesday, Garlasco said it was "patently not the case" that the blast was caused by a mine, adding, "The injuries of the people in the hospital were all to the torso and head, injuries that could not have been caused by a landmine."
Salach Ghalya, who lost seven close family members, says that the Israeli committee set up to investigate the incident has a problem, because it can’t enter Gaza to investigate seriously what happened. "How can they come to any conclusions without listening to anyone who was there?", he asked, adding that there was more than one rocket that hit the beach, and that there was shrapnel from the rockets that could be examined by anyone serious about an investigation.
The Israeli ‘investigation’ apparently consisted of an aerial photograph which Israeli sources say shows that the hole in the sand does not match the size of an Israeli artillery shell (155mm). But Ghalya and other eyewitnesses say that the ‘hole in the sand’ was probably shifted or covered by either emergency crews, or the dozens of people running for cover, and was not an accurate measure of the size of the shell (or shells) that hit the beach.
Israeli human rights groups, meanwhile, condemned the ongoing attacks on Palestinian civilians, including both Friday’s attack and two ‘extra-judicial assassinations by missile’ carried out by Israel Tuesday that resulted in 11 dead, 8 of them civilians — two of whom were infants.
The groups B’Tselem, ACRI, PCATI, HaMoked and PHR-Israel) state that "the killing of a family at the Gaza seashore on Friday (a father, mother and five children), apparently by a shell fired by Israeli soldiers, is a terrible addition to an already horrifying statistic: according to B’Tselem data, since the onset of the second Intifada, 3,431 Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have been killed by Israeli security forces. Of those, 698 were minors under the age of 18 years. At lease 1,645 of those killed were in no way taking part in the fighting at the time they were killed (and an additional 244 people were the targets of targeted killings). These dismal figures result directly from a series of Israeli policies, including illegal expansion of Israel’s open-fire regulations, deliberate vagueness and double messages regarding the use of force, violation of the principle of proportionality and the failure to conduct independent investigations into civilian deaths."
The organizations add that "it is indeed Israel’s obligation to take all legitimate steps at its disposal to defend the lives and security of its citizens from attacks by Palestinian organizations. These attacks by Palestinian groups, which deliberately target civilians, constitute a war crime for which there can be no justification. However, it is unconscionable that a sovereign state should use illegal means, some of which reach the level of war crimes. The organizations reiterate that one of Israel’s central obligations under international humanitarian law is to minimize the impact of military action on the civilian population, and to ensure the life and security of Palestinian civilians, also during armed conflict."
Israeli forces have fired over 6500 shells into the Gaza Strip, the most crowded place on earth, over the last month, killing at least 74 Palestinians, and injuring 292, some of them seriously. Human rights groups estimate that 80% of Palestinian casualties are civilians.