In a press conference held Tuesday evening in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Dan Halutz declared that according to findings they obtained, the Palestinian family killed on the Gaza beach on Friday was not hurt by an Israeli shell.
Peretz opened the press conference by expressing his regret over Tuesday's incident, in which eight Palestinian civilians were killed during an Israel Air Force strike on a terror cell. At the same time, anti-fence protestors were demonstrating outside the Defense Ministry in protest of the Gaza operation. Five of them were arrested.
The commission of inquiry is headed by Major-General Meir Kalifi, head of the IDF Training and Doctrine department.
Kalifi said during the press conference: "We can say that all the shells hit their targets. We have an exact documentation of every shell. We know where it hit. The second thing we checked is whether it is possible there was a shell dud. We checked our fire in the past months and there were no duds. Therefore, I can rule out with certainty that the hit was caused by IDF fire. In light of the findings, I cannot say what did hit them."
"This is something we are still working on, looking into this issue, and I hope we will be able to reach founded estimations, if not about the fire, than about what hit them," he added.
IDF chief of staff, defense minister and head of inquiry commission (Photo: Eli Elgarat)
Kalifi gave further details about the incident: "We can say that it took place 150 meters (about 492 feet) north of what we call 'the casino' (a structure near Bet Lahiya). This took place on the basis of intelligence analysis, witness statements we received from Palestinians themselves. A general analysis of films, in both foreign agencies and in Israel, and footage documenting the Israeli attacks that day. We believe that the time of the incident was between 16:57 and 17:10."
He added that the IDF photographed the beach during the hours and on the basis of those images, it could be seen when the tragic incident took place, according to the gathering of people in the area.
"Due to the close proximity of the hospital from which the ambulances set out, we concluded that the incident did not take place before 16:57. We examined all of the incidents of firing carried out by the IDF in the previous 24 hours. The closest Air Force attack took place two and a half kilometers from the area at 15:17. The last two attacks took place hours before," he said.
Referring to the Gaza beach blast, Peretz said: "We have enough findings confirming our big suspicion that the attempt to portray the incident as an Israeli incident is not true. I know this is very difficult to explain, but the facts accumulating prove that this was not caused by an Israeli incident."
"This is a very important fact for the Israeli ethics and for the army's validity. The accumulating facts prove that the incident was not cause due to an operation of Israeli forces," he said.
Halutz: We express our deep regret
The chief of staff said: "In the past few weeks, western Negev residents have been hit by a rocket barrage, and we are working to minimize it. On Saturday evening I said that we express our regret for hurting a Palestinian family. Today I see that the regret is still valid, but we are not responsible. There is difficulty to deliver all the details and explain all the explanations and convince all those who are not convinced, but I am convinced regarding the details."
Peretz also referred to Tuesday's events in Gaza: "I want to express my regret over the fact that today, during an incident in which our forces were operating against an attempt to prepare for launching Grad Missiles at Israel, innocent civilians who were not involved in the incident were also hurt."
"In all the operations the IDF carries out, one of the issues taken into account, which sometimes leads to taking greater risks, is the need not to hurt innocent civilians. However, all the operations are carried out with maximal protection of civilians. All the organizations which operated against us are operating from populated areas, knowing that they are risking the population," he added.
Halutz also referred to Tuesday's incident, in which eight civilians were killed in an IAF strike in Gaza.
"Also this incident happened in light of the reality in which it happens. Grad missiles can cover other areas in the western and northern Negev, and we are very firm over preventing these missiles from being launched. Therefore, what was carried out was carried out," he said.
"We express our deep regret for hurting those who were not meant to be hurt. However, I remind you that they are operating in crowded populated places, and we will not let the groups we detect carry out their plans. The Palestinians pay this price. The Palestinian Authority and others have to do everything to prevent such incidents," he added.
Avi Cohen contributed to the report