Israel admits it lied over missile raid on camp
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Friday November 21, 2003
The Israeli military has admitted that it lied about a rocket attack on a Gaza refugee camp, which according to the army led to no casualties, but which the Palestinians have claimed killed 14 civilians.
A leftwing member of the Israeli parliament, Yossi Sarid, forced the confession from the air force chief after he threatened to release evidence that the military had used a weapon more destructive and indiscriminate than it had publicly claimed.
A month ago, the air force launched an assassination strike against a Hamas activist who was driving through Nuseirat refugee camp. The Palestinians claimed that the attack caused a large number of civilian casualties, but the air force commander, Major General Dan Halutz, produced video footage of the car being hit by two missiles that showed no one standing near the wrecked vehicle as the rockets struck.
The military said that Hellfire missiles were used, producing a concentrated explosion over a small area. Gen Halutz likened the effect of the missiles to "two grenades". The video footage was widely shown on Israeli television.
But the army now admits that it lied in briefings to the Israeli and foreign press, because the second rocket was not a Hellfire missile.
The military refuses to identify the weapon used, on the grounds of "operational security". But the speculation is that it was an American-made Flechette, which is illegal under international law because it fires thousands of tiny darts over hundreds of metres, causing horrific injuries. Israel has used similar weapons in Gaza in the past.
A political source said the air force had also admitted that the weapon was not fired from an Apache helicopter as it had originally claimed. The source said the information raised the possibility that the Israelis were using a new type of aircraft or weapon.
Evidence from the attack scene indicated that the second missile exploded in the air, not on impact, suggesting an intention to cause casualties in a wide area instead of just destroying the vehicle.
The truth began to emerge a fortnight ago when Mr Sarid, a Meretz party MP, asked the defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, in a parliamentary hearing, what kind of ammunition was used in the attack on Nuseirat. Mr Mofaz refused to answer.
Mr Sarid said that he had obtained information that the missiles were not, as the military claimed, small explosives. He threatened to go public with the information if questions on the issue were evaded.
The military reportedly tried to prevent him discussing the issue. But he said: "I will not allow anyone to gag me."
In an attempt to stave off further revelations, Gen Halutz met Mr Sarid on Wednesday. The general admitted that the military had lied, but tried to persuade the MP that the missiles could not have caused large numbers of casualties.
Afterwards the military released a statement, saying: "For reasons of securing information and for operational reasons, it was not possible to state completely events at Nuseirat. In any case, the version shown and the explanation given regarding those hurt in the action, along with the video footage, are correct."
Mr Sarid is unconvinced and is still threatening to go public with the information he has.
"It is evident the number of casualties is higher than the military claimed," he said. "It is now clear how incorrect the information the military gave was. Further clarification is needed to determine how deceptive the information was intended to be."
· The family of Tom Hurndall, a British peace activist who was left brain damaged after being shot in the head by an Israeli soldier, says a cheque from the Israeli government to cover his treatment and repatriation costs has bounced. The family waited months for the £8,370, but on receipt the London branch of the Bank of Israel said there were insufficient funds in the government account. The Israeli embassy in London later said it would ensure the family was paid.
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