Israel’s official denial of responsibility for the Gaza beach deaths and injuries was strongly challenged by a former Pentagon battle damage expert who has surveyed the scene of the beach explosion. He said yesterday that "all the evidence points" to a 155mm Israeli land-based artillery shell as its cause.
Marc Garlasco, who worked in war zones including Iraq and Kosovo during his seven-year stint in the US Department of Defence, called for an independent investigation into the killings after concluding that shell fragments and shrapnel from the site, the size and distribution of the craters on the beach, and the type of injuries sustained by the victims made Israeli shelling easily the likeliest cause.
Mr Garlasco, who is now the senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, said that most of the serious injuries of the victims in the Gaza hospitals that he had visited were to the torsos and heads, which were inconsistent with a land mine or of a bomb embedded in the sand. "If this had been a landmine I would have expected to see serious leg injuries," Mr Garlasco said that while he could not rule out the theoretical possibility that Palestinian militants had rigged up an unexploded 155mm shell to make an explosive device of their own, that too would have normally produced many more severe leg injuries.
Mr Garlasco produced a four to five-inch, mainly blackened shell fragment which he collected about 100 yards from the scene of the explosion and in which the figures 55 and the letters "mm" are clearly discernible. While acknowledging that this was not itself definite proof that the shell had killed the Palestinians he said some fragments and shrapnel which the Palestinian police explosives department say they took from the scene where the victims were killed were definitely from a 155mm shell.
Mr Garlasco who accompanied a small group of journalists to the Beit Lahia beach, pointed to three separate craters, each covered in a whitish powder, which he said were fresh, one of which was at the spot where witnesses agree the fatal blast occurred, and the two others separated it from it by about 120 and 250 yards. Mr Garlasco added: "It would be a really ridiculous coincidence if there is active shelling and then suddenly an IED [improvised explosive device] goes off.