June 13, 2006

Israel set to deny role in Gaza beach killings

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An investigation by the Israeli army
indicates it was not responsible for a blast on a Gaza beach
last week that killed seven Palestinian civilians and set off a
storm of protest, a senior military official said.

The Palestinians, mostly members of the same family, were
killed on Friday in the northern Gaza Strip. Palestinian
witnesses said an Israeli artillery shell had killed them.

A senior Israeli military official told Reuters the
explosion was likely caused by a land mine planted by a
Palestinian militant group and not the result of Israeli fire.

He said the findings, based on evidence from radar
tracking, videos and fragments taken from the bodies of
victims, would be in a report due for release at midnight on

"On Friday night, I had the feeling it was Israeli
activity. On Saturday, I thought it was 50:50, now I am
convinced it was not," said the official, who asked not to be
identified because the investigation has still not concluded.

The official also said the army was unsure where one of six
artillery shells it fired on Friday had landed. But other
military sources have said that Israeli forces stopped shelling
about 10 minutes before the explosion on the beach.

The Gaza blast occurred on a day of heavy Israeli shelling

Television footage shot immediately after the explosion and
broadcast around the world showed an 8-year-old Palestinian
girl running panicked and distraught as she realized her father
and several other relatives had been killed.

The images fueled condemnation of Israel's shelling of
Gaza, a response to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel. In
the wake of the killings, the ruling Hamas militant group
scrapped a 16-month truce with Israel.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed his condolences over
the deaths, saying he regretted the loss of life, but did not
admit any responsibility.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, on a visit to Europe,
reinforced the military's line on Tuesday, saying it was
possible Palestinian militants were responsible.

"There is a situation in which maybe ... this was an
explosive that was put on the beach for future attacks on
Israel," she told a news conference in Luxembourg after meeting
European Union officials.

"We are looking into the facts right now," she said.