- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

12:25 p.m.

JERUSALEM — An Israeli investigation has concluded that a blast that killed eight Palestinian civilians on a Gaza beach almost certainly came from a Hamas militant mine and not an Israeli shell, military officials said today.

A spokesman for the Hamas-led Palestinian government dismissed the conclusion about Friday’s explosion, which was discussed by Israeli officials on condition of anonymity because the investigation’s results were not yet official.

According to the findings, shrapnel removed from two wounded Palestinians taken to Israeli hospitals showed that the explosives were not made in Israel, the Israeli officials said.

In addition, the inquiry found that the last Israeli shell was fired in the area seven minutes before the blast, the officials said. A Palestinian group said the blast occurred while Israeli forces were still firing.

The blast’s crater — which the military saw on television and through surveillance equipment — appeared to be from an explosion in the sand, not from a shelling, they said.

The explosion in the northern Gaza Strip went off by a Palestinian family that had been enjoying a seaside picnic. Seven relatives and another man were killed.

Video of a Palestinian girl crying over her father’s lifeless body was broadcast around the world and became a symbol of the tragedy.

Palestinians immediately blamed a shell fired by Israeli forces, who have been attacking sites where militants launch crude rockets against the Jewish state. However, the Israelis likely will focus blame instead on Hamas militants who may have laid a mine on the beach to defend against Israeli naval commandos, the officials said.

The Israeli investigation said the blast took place at 4:58 p.m. The last Israeli shell fired toward Palestinian militants who launch rockets in the area was at 4:51 p.m., seven minutes before the blast, and landed 250 yards away from the scene, the officials said.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said in an initial response to the Israeli claims that the blast occurred at about 4:40 p.m., when the army said it was still firing.

Palestinian officials said it was highly unlikely that Hamas militants would plant bombs at the beach because it is frequented by hundreds of people every weekend.

“This is a false allegation, and the Israeli occupation state is trying to escape from shouldering its responsibility by accusing Palestinians without evidence or any proof,” said Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the Palestinians’ Hamas-led government.

“The eyewitnesses and the evidence that we have confirm that the massacre is the result of Israeli shelling, and the allegation about land mines planted by Palestinians is baseless,” he said.

Israel at first left open the possibility that it was responsible and expressed sorrow for the deaths. The military committee looking into the blast is expected to issue its findings later today.

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