PALESTINE: HRW says Israeli artillery caused Gaza beach massacre


Kim Bullimore

On June 13, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) organisation called on Israel to launch an immediate, independent investigation into the explosion on June 9 that killed seven Palestinian civilians picnicking on a northern Gaza Strip beach.

At a June 13 news conference, the Israeli Defence Force denied responsibility for the June 9 explosion, which killed seven members of the same family including a father, mother, two teenagers and three children under the age of four. IDF officials said there was "no chance" the explosion was caused by Israeli artillery shells fired at northern Gaza at the time.

The IDF has admitted firing six artillery shells at the area between 4.32pm and 4.51pm on June 9, but said the last one was fired at least six minutes before the explosion that killed the seven Palestinians. The IDF has suggested that the Gaza beach killings were caused by the accidental detonation of a mine planted by Hamas militants.

But in its June 13 media statement, HRW said it had sent researchers to the site of the explosion, who found a large piece of jagged shrapnel with "155mm" stamped on it, consistent with the M-109 artillery shells used by the IDF.

HRW also said that its researchers viewed satellite photos, which showed that craters caused by the five other Israeli artillery shells were only 100-300 metres away from the crater caused by the explosion that killed the family, and had the same size and shape.

"Eyewitnesses interviewed by HRW described between five and six explosions on the beach between 4.30 pm to 5 pm, the time frame when the IDF fired artillery onto the beach and when the seven civilians were killed", the HRW statement read. "Two survivors said they heard the sound of an incoming projectile and saw a blur of motion in the sky before the explosion that killed the seven civilians. Residents of northern Gaza are familiar with the sounds of regular artillery fire."

Doctors also confirmed to HRW "researchers that the injuries from the attack, which were primarily to the head and torso, are consistent with the heavy shrapnel of artillery shells used by the IDF. Doctors said the shrapnel they removed from Palestinian patients in Gaza was of a type that comes from an artillery shell."

"There has been much speculation about the cause of the beach killings, but the evidence we have gathered strongly suggests Israeli artillery fire was to blame", Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW's Middle East division, told reporters.

"Since its September 2005 pullout from Gaza, the IDF has regularly struck northern Gaza with artillery shelling, in response to Qassam rocket attacks from the area by Palestinian armed groups", the HRW statement noted. "In the last 10 months, Israel has admitted to firing more than 5000 artillery shells into the area. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs puts the number at 5700 IDF shells fired since the end of March 2005."

From Green Left Weekly, June 21 2006.
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