An Israeli military investigation has blamed the killing of seven members of a Palestinian family on a Gaza beach, including five children, on a land mine planted by Hamas, not shelling by the army.Et tu Ha'aretz?
But Palestinian leaders described the army's conclusions as a cover-up and a former Pentagon analyst, sent by a US human rights group to investigate the deaths, said the military has ignored evidence that leaves little doubt the family was killed by a stray Israeli shell that Israel admits is unaccounted for.
The Palestinians accused the army of rushing to clear itself to save the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, embarrassment as he tours Britain and other European countries to win support for his plan to draw the Jewish state's final borders by annexing part of the West Bank.
Television pictures of 10-year-old Huda Ghalia wailing on the beach over the bodies of her dead father and five siblings on Friday had threatened to derail Mr Olmert's public relations drive and severely embarrassed the army at home. Mr Olmert initially said he regretted the killings but in London on Monday sought to distance Israel from responsibility.
The military now says that it fired six shells on to and around the beach where Huda Ghalia's family died, with one of them falling about 100 yards away, but by coincidence a mine planted by Hamas exploded in the same area at the same time. The military backs its claim with analysis of aerial photographs, shrapnel and what it is says is intelligence that Hamas has mined Gaza beaches to stop Israeli forces landing, although it is not known to have used such a tactic before.
But a former Pentagon offical sent by the New York-based Human Rights Watch to investigate the death of the family has concluded that there is little doubt they were killed by an Israeli shell. "All the evidence points to the fact that it couldn't have been a mine," said Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon expert on battlefields who led the US military's battle damage assessment team in Kosovo and worked for its intelligence wing, the Defense Intelligence Agency.
"You have the crater size, the shrapnel, the types of injuries, their location on the bodies. That all points to a shell dropping from the sky not explosives under the sand."
The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that the army concedes that five shells landed along a 250-metre stretch of beach and that a sixth shell is unaccounted for. But it says that an eight-minute gap between when the sixth shell was fired and when the Palestinians say the family was blown up means there is no connection between the two.
The Human Rights Watch report is here.