(Communicated by the IDF Spokesman)

The Chief of Staff has instructed Maj. Gen. Meir Kalifi, deputy commander of the IDF ground forces branch, to head a special inquiry committee into yesterday’s incident in which seven innocent Palestinian civilians were killed on the beach in the Gaza Strip.

Initial investigation indicated that Israeli naval fire did not cause this incident. The possibility of land-based artillery fire is being examined.

The IDF deeply regrets any harm caused to innocent civilians and has offered any medical assistance needed including hospitalization in Israel.

Excerpts of statement by Chief of Staff Halutz, Saturday, June 10 at the Gaza Division Headquarters:

I would first like to react to what happened – an incident in which civilians uninvolved in terror were hurt, and I would like to emphasize that our expression of sorrow does not imply taking responsibility for the incident.

The investigation into the incident has not been completed and we cannot yet determine what happened. We are continuing the investigation and would very much like to do so in cooperation with the Palestinian side in order to establish what happened.

Immediately following the incident we made several decisions: I ordered the halt of all artillery fire; we offered medical assistance to the Palestinians; and, as you already know, there are currently two Palestinians being treated at Israeli hospitals. We ordered a very thorough and speedy investigation into the matter to ascertain the connection or lack thereof of the IDF to the incident.

As of now we have ruled out the possibilities of Israel Air Force or Navy involvement and are still investigating the option of artillery fire.

I remind everyone that the artillery was in response in the launching of Qassam rockets and also the fact that Hamas claimed responsibility for the all the rockets fired at Sderot since yesterday till this afternoon. The involvement is not only limited to the lower ranks but also higher ranks.

We will continue to pursue the Qassam cells and those manufacturing the rockets and those dispatching the cells because we will not choose to operate in a manner in which Israeli citizens are exposed to danger and we must stand idly by and observe it. This is not our plan – our plan is to continue to deal with the Qassams, those launching and those manufacturing them and we will continue to so in an effort to minimize any harm caused to innocent civilians.

There is nothing new in this, we have always avoided taking action when uninvolved civilians were identified and we will continue to do so. In this context I would like to say that we have used artillery in the past and we will do so in the future, under the strictest regulations and yesterday’s artillery was fired under these regulations.

I wish to correct misinformation that was reported on to the Israeli people and the world, that we have decreased the artillery fire security distance – this never happened and we will prove it to the necessary authorities.

The following is a summary of a briefing given on Friday, June 9, by the GOC Southern Command, Maj. General Yoav Gallant:

I cannot say what caused this incident. We are looking into the different possibilities. Both naval and ground based means were used today. We have fired thousands of shells in the past and this has never happened before. We are investigating, but it seems that it was not caused by either air or naval fire. There may have been an accident which caused an artillery shell to fall off course, or an old unexploded shell which went off, or perhaps an explosive device which was tinkered with. We fired towards open areas and took the necessary distance precautions. We fired towards the ruins of Dugit and westward of them – an area which is routinely used for rocket launching. The Palestinian population was warned to keep clear of this area. If as a result of our activity innocent Palestinians were hurt, I am very sorry for it. We do not intend to harm civilians, and we have offered any assistance that we can.
There was no firing towards a school.

We have halted our artillery fire in order to check ourselves. As for aerial attacks, they will continue against anyone aiming to attack us.

Rockets continued to be launched at Israel, and despite this regrettable event we will continue to do all that it takes to defend the citizens of Israel. The IDF today attacked two terror cells – one immediately after a rocket launching, the second as it was on its way for such a launching. The second was a Hamas terror cell which in the past days has launched a number of Qassam rocket that hit Sderot. Our activity is aimed to protect the citizens of Israel from harm. This activity will continue.

If terror organizations continue to fire at our civilian population, we will have to respond severely. We are under attack, and will use any means necessary while taking the utmost precautions. Sadly, accidents do happen. We are investigating the grave incident on the Gaza beach, and if it was in fact caused by a mishap, we will take appropriate action. We expect to know more in the coming 24 hours.