Thursday, November 09, 2006

Israel to reevaluate IDF policy of shelling northern Gaza Strip

By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Staff and Agencies

Defense Minister Amir Peretz decided Thursday to reevaluate the policy of directing IDF artillery fire at the Gaza Strip, following the killing of 19 Palestinian civilians by errant Israel Defence Forces shelling in Beit Hanun on Wednesday.

Peretz also decided that from now on all artillery fire must be approved by GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant, or his superior officers.

The IDF has halted the artillery fire until the completion of an inquiry into Wednesday's incident.

Major General Meir Kalifi, who is heading the IDF inquiry, met Thursday evening with Peretz and presented him with the inquiry's findings.

The inquiry found that a malfunctioning electronic card in the artillery battery's guidance system, which was replaced five days ago, was the cause of the errant fire.

The card fed the battery's guidance system with wrong coordinates, as a result of which the battery errantly fired seven shells into Palestinian homes, instead of open areas from which Qassam rockets were being fired at Israeli communities.

The Israeli-developed "Shilem" guidance system has been in use by the IDF for roughly 30 years. It is considered reliable, and IDF inquiries into the matter found that this is the first time this particular malfunction has occured in the system or similar systems used abroad.

The Kalifi inquiry has yet to complete its work, but as yet has found that the replacement card was examined in a professional manner by the proper technicians.

The inquiry is considering recommending two changes to IDF regulations: requiring a live-fire test of artillery batteries following parts replacement, and requiring human tracking of where shells are falling in addition to the radar.

The inquiry will also examine the standard operating regulations in IDF artillery batteries and in the Gaza division, as well as how well they are upheld in practice.

Peretz also ordered an examination of IDF regulations regarding the minimum required distance between where artillery fire can be directed and the nearest populated area.

According to military sources, it would be worthwhile to look into whether the artillery battery team could have nonetheless avoided the incident through more proper performance, and careful monitoring of the equipment.

Olmert calls for immediate meeting with Abbas

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday said the IDF shelling was caused by a "technical failure" and called for an immediate meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

"He will be surprised, when he will sit with me, by how far we are prepared to go. I can offer him a lot," Olmert said, without elaborating.

In his comments, Olmert said he is ready to meet with Abbas "any time, any place, without preconditions." He said Abbas has prevented a meeting from taking place.

Olmert, speaking in English at a business conference, expressed regret for Wednesday's bloodshed. "I'm very uncomfortable with this event. I'm very distressed," he said, adding he had personally looked into the cause of the pre-dawn artillery strike.

"This particular case ... was a mistake," he said. "It was not a planned attack."

"It was a technical failure of the Israeli artillery. I checked it, and I verified it."

He added, however, that Israel will continue its military operations in Gaza as long as Palestinian rocket attacks persist. He said Israel will do everything it can to avoid similar mistakes, but warned that further tragedies are possible. "It may happen," he said.

Olmert said Wednesday's artillery strike was aimed at an orange grove used by rocket squads in northern Gaza to attack Israel.

1 comment:

William said...


Privately senior israelis tell us that this was not a "mistake" but the consequences of "the stupid actions of one man". But that cannot of course be the public line. israel will soften its measures in gaza - indeed has already taken steps to do so. Israeli officials are in a state of some despair over recent developments. The mood here is chganging. Which is good I guess.