GAZA CITY - Evidence from a Gaza beach where a blast killed eight civilians over the weekend indicates an Israeli shell caused the deaths despite denials from the military, a Human Rights Watch researcher who examined the site said Wednesday.
"The Israelis stated that the shrapnel removed from victims in Israel was not artillery shrapnel but they offered up no alternative explanation of what it is," said Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon advisor who now works as a military analyst for the New York-based rights group.
But Garlasco said that after examining shrapnel from the scene and studying victims' wounds he concluded that the blast was caused by a 155mm shell, which is used by the Israeli military.
"We are very certain that it is a 155mm shell," he said.
Garlasco's conclusions are at odds with findings of the Israeli military.
"This shrapnel was not from a 155mm... there is no doubt on this point," General Meir Klifi, who is heading an internal investigation into the explosion, told public radio Wednesday, adding that the inquiry was ongoing.
The previous day Israeli chief of staff General Dan Halutz told reporters that the military did not "bear responsibility" for the deaths.
Unlike HRW, the Israeli military has not examined the site of the blast, which drew worldwide condemnation, and is relying on intelligence, examination of victims treated in Israel and analysis of television images of the beach.
Garlasco said that he had offered to share evidence that he gathered at the beach with the military.
"Our office in Jerusalem has been in contact with the IDF, they're trying to facilitate meetings, I'm very hopeful that we'll have an exchange of information," he said.
The military has suggested that the blast could have been caused by a mine planted by Palestinian militants at the beach to thwart operations by Israeli special forces.
Garlasco dismissed the suggestion.
"It's so obviously not a landmine that I was surprised the Israelis went down that road," he said.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was equally sceptical about such claims, describing them as "odd."