by Yaakov Katz,
Jerusalem Post

While sticking to its demand for the establishment of an independent inquiry into a blast on a Gaza beach that killed seven Palestinian civilians, the Human Rights Watch conceded for the first time since the incident that it could not contradict the IDF’s exonerating findings.

Major-General Meir Klifi — head of the IDF inquiry commission that cleared the IDF of responsibility for the blast — met with Marc Garlasco, a military expert from the HRW who had claimed that the blast was caused by an IDF artillery shell. Following the three-hour meeting, described by both sides as cordial and pleasant, Garlasco praised the IDF’s professional investigation into the blast, which he said was most likely caused by unexploded Israeli ordnance left laying on the beach, a possibility also raised by Klifi and his team.

“We came to an agreement with General Klifi that the most likely cause [of the blast] was unexploded Israeli ordinance,” Garlasco told The Jerusalem Post following the meeting. While Klifi’s team did a “competent job” to rule out the possibility that the blast was caused by artillery fire, there were still, Garlasco said, a number of pieces of evidence that the IDF commission did not take into consideration.

The main argument between Klifi and HRW surrounded the timeline of the blast, which the IDF said took between 16:57 and 15:10, at least 10 minutes after artillery fire in the area had stopped. HRW however disputes this claim and basing itself on Palestinian hospital documentation, claims that the explosion actually took place right around the time of the IDF artillery fire.

Meanwhile, The Post learned that the IDF was currently inspecting a second piece of shrapnel doctors had retrieved from one of the Palestinians wounded in the blast and currently being treated at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. A first piece of shrapnel, examined by the IDF as well as by an independent academic institute in Beersheba was found to not have come from a 155 mm shell, the type used in IDF artillery attacks on Kassam launch sites in the Gaza Strip. The second piece of shrapnel, sources said, was currently being examined in an IDF lab.

Garlasco told Klifi during the meeting that he was impressed with the IDF’s system of checks and balances concerning its artillery fire in the Gaza Strip and unlike Hamas which specifically targeted civilians in its rocket attacks, the Israelis, he said, invested a great amount of resources and efforts not to harm innocent civilians.

“We do not believe the Israelis were targeting civilians.” Garlasco said. “We just want to know if it was an Israeli shell that killed the Palestinians.”

Lucy Mair — head of the HRW’s Jerusalem office — said Klifi’s team had conducted a thorough and professional investigation of the incident and made “a good assessment” when ruling out the possibility that an errant IDF shell had killed the seven Palestinians on the Gaza beach.

‘We differ when it comes to other pieces of information from other sources that don’t relate to the military strike such as the timing and the type of injuries,” Mair explained. “While they [the IDF] made a very good presentation, we still think there are enough unanswered questions that have not been examined by Klifi’s team… and that is why we believe there should be an independent investigation.”