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Israel: Palestinian explosives caused beach deaths

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A Palestinian girl weeps after members of her family were killed in an explosion on a Gaza beach.

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The explosion on a Gaza beach that killed seven people last Friday was caused by explosives planted there by Palestinian militants, not artillery fire from an Israeli navy gunboat, Israeli military sources said Tuesday.

However, in Gaza, the group Human Rights Watch said the evidence it has been able to gather suggests that a 155 mm artillery shell, like the type used by the Israeli military, was responsible.

The Israeli investigation concluded that the possibility any of the six artillery shells fired from the gunboat could have landed on the beach was "almost nil," the sources said.

The deaths of seven people -- all members of a Palestinian family having a beach picnic -- prompted the military wing of Hamas to resume rocket strikes against Israel after a hiatus of more than a year.

The Israel Defense Forces report was presented to the Israeli defense minister and Israeli chief of staff Tuesday.

The IDF report cites several factors that led to the conclusion that the explosion was caused by a mine planted on the beach by Palestinian militants, the sources said.

An Israeli commando unit used the beach to enter Gaza for a mission in recent weeks, prompting the militants to place the mines, the sources said.

Intelligence information gathered by Israeli investigators showed that Hamas quickly removed the remaining mines from the beach after the blast, the sources said.

Investigators were able to locate where five of the six shells fired from the gunboat Friday landed and none of them were near the beach, the sources said. The sixth shell -- the first to be fired -- could not have killed the family because it was fired further north and too early, the sources said.

Adding to the conclusion that it was not an Israeli shell that killed the family was an examination of photographs of the crater on the beach. The sources said experts found it was the type of crater caused by a planted explosive, not by an artillery shell landing from above.

Finally, shrapnel removed from three of the injured by doctors at Israeli hospitals was not from an artillery shell, the sources said.

But Human Rights Watch said its investigation of the incident came up with opposite conclusions in almost every case.

The group said most of the injuries to the dead were to the head and torso. A Human Rights Watch spokesman said that would be consistent with an incoming shell, not a bomb buried in the ground.

Human Rights Watch also said the crater was consistent with a 155 mm artillery shell.

CNN's Michal Zippori and Finnuala Sweeney contributed to this report

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