Amid calls to establish an international inquiry commission, the IDF on Saturday flatly rejected a report published in The Times of London earlier in the day which claimed the June 9th explosion that killed seven Palestinians on a Gaza Strip beach was caused by an IDF-fired artillery shell.
Following an extensive investigation, the IDF last week exonerated itself from responsibility for the explosion which it said was most probably caused by a bomb planted on the beach by Palestinian terrorists.
According to The Times report, UN envoys in the Gaza Strip linked IDF artillery fire to the explosion on the Gaza beach. The paper argued that the IDF investigation was not consistent with the time frame of the incident, and alleged that the internal military probe had purposely left out of its report the firing of two shells from a Navy warship patrolling the Gaza coast close to the time of the explosion.
MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz-Yahad) called on the government to initiate an international investigation to investigate the report. According to Gal-On, "Trust is an asset, and Israel is morally obligated to discover the truth of the incident." The IDF, however, denied the claims made in the article and restated its confidence in the internal investigation led by the deputy head of IDF Ground Forces, Maj.-Gen. Meir Kalifi.
"The Navy fired shells hours before the incident," Kalifi said Saturday night.
"Therefore it is impossible that the explosion was caused by Navy fire."
The Times, the IDF said in a statement, used bits and pieces of the military investigation and tried to recreate its own independent picture and time frame of the incident. "It is unfortunate that such a respectable newspaper chooses to publish an incorrect article."
Israel's investigation, which relied heavily on the timing of the incident, claimed that the explosion took place between 4:57pm and 5.10 p.m., almost ten minutes after artillery cannons stopped shelling an area near the beach. The Times, however, presented a transmission of a UN radio call made at 4.43 p.m. claiming that the IDF had resumed shelling of the area.
The IDF said that the 4.43 p.m. UN call was concerning an earlier incident that took place near the abandoned settlement of Dugit, almost 700 meters from the deadly beach explosion.
A piece of shrapnel taken from one of the wounded treated in an Israeli hospital and found to not be from a 155-millimeter shell used by the IDF, Kalifi said Saturday night, was another piece of proof that the explosion was not caused by IDF artillery fire.
The United Nations on Saturday denied reports that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was planning to send an envoy to Israel to conduct an independent investigation into the incident. "Annan did not say that he is sending an envoy, nor has he sent an envoy," a statement released by the UN said. "He has made clear that any international investigation would require the consent of both parties."
For the time being, Israel is opposed to an international investigation into the incident, saying that the probe conducted by the IDF was objective and professional. "There is no need for such an investigation," one high-ranking defense official said, adding that international organizations as well as other countries were invited to review the IDF report.
In the Gaza Strip on Friday, two Islamic Jihad operatives wanted for launching Kassam rockets at Israel were killed in an IAF missile strike on their car in Gaza City. A third person was wounded in the attack. Islamic Jihad identified the dead men as Habib Ashour and Emad Yassin, both field operators in Gaza.
IDF sources said that the cell was responsible for Kassam rockets fired last week at communities near the Gaza Strip including ones that specifically targeted the home of Defense Minister Amir Peretz. On Friday, an additional five Kassams were fired at the western Negev. A factory worker was lightly wounded by shrapnel when a rocket punched through the roof of the factory in Sderot, and two other workers were treated for shock.