Gaza beach blast 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel will not agree to an international investigation into the blast on a Gaza beach 10 days ago that killed seven Palestinian civilians and which the IDF said was not caused by IDF artillery fire, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at Sunday's cabinet meeting.
"We will never agree to be the subject of an international investigation," Olmert told the cabinet. "The world is not always willing to accept what we say, but nobody can cast doubt on our investigation. I accept it completely," Olmert said of the IDF investigation that determined the deaths were not caused by IDF fire on Gaza.
"I believe the IDF, and I trust [Defense Minister Amir] Peretz and the army," Olmert said. He stressed that neither British Prime Minister Tony Blair nor French President Jacques Chirac criticized the IDF's defensive operations in the Gaza Strip during his meetings with them last week.
Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Paz-Pines' question about whether it would not have been wise to have had civilians involved in the investigation into the blast, led to a heated discussion of the matter as well as a report Saturday in The Times of London alleging that the deaths were caused by an IDF artillery-shell.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres said that Israel has very effective institutions able to deal with these types of investigations, and that "no one has the right to doubt them." He said that no one in England would call for an international investigation to look into the use of force by the British police that lead to deaths. He said Israel was in no way inferior to any other country, and that's its government institutions were in many cases better suited to deal with these incidents than in other countries.
Peretz told the cabinet he went over the committees' findings a number of times and had "no doubts" about them. He said that since this was an IDF-related matter, it warranted an IDF investigation. He also pointed out that the head of the investigating committee, deputy head of the IDF Ground Forces, Maj-Gen. Meir Kalifi, was in no way connected to the incident.
Peretz said that he was certain that an errant artillery shell did not cause the deaths, but that he could not yet conclusively rule out that the blast was caused by old IDF ordnance at the scene. The more likely scenario, the ministers were told, was that the blast was caused by explosives the Palestinians placed on the beach to keep Israeli commandos from landing.
IDF Spokeswoman Brig.-Gen. Miri Regev said Sunday that the army had yet to rule out the possibility that the political echelon would decide to establish an external inquiry commission into the cause of the explosion that killed the seven Gazans.
"We will accept any decision by the political echelon," Regev said. "Everyone likes when we plead guilty. But this time there is nothing to do since the IDF did not kill any innocent civilians."
Peretz told the cabinet that since that tragedy, and the incident a few days later when the IDF hit a van carrying Katyusha missiles and killed 11 Palestinians, Israel had passed on a message to the Palestinians that it would not tolerate Hamas involvement in the firing of Kassam rockets. .
Since that time, he said, Hamas has not openly been involved in the rocket fire on Sderot, although the may still be involved "behind the scenes."
"Hamas is not openly involved, and the cells [firing the Kassam rockets] are those of Islamic Jihad," he said. If Hamas becomes involved again, he warned, Israel would not restrain itself in its reaction as it did at the beginning of last week when dozens of rockets fell on Sderot over a span of two days.
Meanwhile Sunday, Sueddeutsche Zeitung- a leading German daily - published its own investigation into the incident casting doubt on the authenticity of pictures taken of the scene immediately following the explosion.
According to the article, the pictures taken by a Palestinian cameraman at the scene of the explosion contradicted Palestinian claims that an IDF shell had killed the family of seven on June 10. The paper also raised the possibility that the entire scene was staged by the cameraman in an effort to frame Israel.
The newspaper also doubted the Palestinian claim that the girl who survived the explosion was not injured since she was in the water when the alleged IDF shell exploded. In the cameraman's footage, however, the girl is fully dressed and her clothes, the newspaper claimed, were dry.