It was Mark Garlasco of Human Rights Watch who was more than anyone else responsible for casting doubt on the official Israeli enquiries findings, that the tragic June 9th deaths of a Palestinian family on the Gaza beach were not caused by shelling they had done earlier.
Garlasco's account was enthusiastically promoted by the British press, notably by Chris McGreal of The Guardian. He uncritically reported Garlasco's assertions as recently as Saturday 17th June in an article subheaded Guardian investigation casts doubt on Israeli claim that army was not to blame:
..the army's account quickly came in for criticism, led by a former Pentagon battlefield analyst, Marc Garlasco, investigating for Human Rights Watch. "You have the crater size, the shrapnel, the types of injuries, their location on the bodies. That all points to a shell dropping from the sky, not explosives under the sand," he said. "I've been to hospital and seen the injuries. The doctors say they are primarily to the head and torso. That is consistent with a shell exploding above the ground, not a mine under it."
Mr Garlasco also produced shrapnel from the site apparently marked as a 155mm shell used by the army that day.
In my most recent post on the contradictory IDF and Garlasco explanations, I reproduced the Human Rights Watch report of Garlasco's findings verbatim. It actually relied heavily on Palestinian witness and bomb disposal staff statements about the timing and location of what they claimed was the shelling they witnessed.
Now Human Rights Watch and Garlasco have admitted that the IDF account "cannot be contradicted". Without directly saying so, they have conceded that despite Garlasco's previous assertions, the deaths were not directly caused by artillery shelling as they had claimed.
Garlasco has met with the Israeli investigatory authorities, and now states that the deaths "most likely" resulted from unexploded Israeli ordnance on the beach, despite having previously claimed that he saw craters which were only consistent with shells dropping out of the sky. He also praised the professional quality of the IDF investigations:
On Monday, Maj.-Gen. Meir Klifi - head of the IDF inquiry commission that cleared the IDF of responsibility for the blast - met with Marc Garlasco, a military expert from the HRW who had last week claimed that the blast was caused by an IDF artillery shell. Following the three-hour meeting, described by both sides as cordial and pleasant, Garlasco praised the IDF's professional investigation into the blast, which he said was most likely caused by unexploded Israeli ordnance left laying on the beach, a possibility also raised by Klifi and his team.
"We came to an agreement with General Klifi that the most likely cause [of the blast] was unexploded Israeli ordinance," Garlasco told The Jerusalem Post following the meeting. While Klifi's team did a "competent job" to rule out the possibility that the blast was caused by artillery fire, there were still, Garlasco said, a number of pieces of evidence that the IDF commission did not take into consideration. .....
Garlasco told Klifi during the meeting that he was impressed with the IDF's system of checks and balances concerning its artillery fire in the Gaza Strip and unlike Hamas which specifically targeted civilians in its rocket attacks, the Israelis, he said, invested a great amount of resources and efforts not to harm innocent civilians.
"We do not believe the Israelis were targeting civilians." Garlasco said. "We just want to know if it was an Israeli shell that killed the Palestinians."
Lucy Mair - head of the HRW's Jerusalem office - said Klifi's team had conducted a thorough and professional investigation of the incident and made "a good assessment" when ruling out the possibility that an errant IDF shell had killed the seven Palestinians on the Gaza beach.
As I commented previously, Mr Garlasco seems to have a remarkable tendency to radically recast his accounts of his actions to match emerging evidence. His entire previous case was about active Israeli shelling dropping out of the sky, which he had said was almost beyond doubt responsible.
And I wonder if Chris McGreal of the Guardian, Donald McIntyre of the Independent, and the BBC News web site will now report in full Garlasco and Human Rights Watch's latest statements that the Israeli forces invest such effort not to harm innocent civilians and were correct in stating that an errant shell did not cause the killings.
And will they raise questions about the Palestinian witness evidence they so graphically reported, which had barrages of shells landing in the midst of the family on the beach?
Or will they raise questions about why the Palestinian authorities permit families to use a beach which they must know is likely to have unexploded ordnance lying on it?