JERUSALEM – Israeli military correspondents accused the army Wednesday of misleading them about the weapon used in a deadly airstrike in the Gaza strip (search). The military later admitted that it may have mishandled the situation.
The rare public spat between the journalists and the army could further undermine the credibility of the military, already battered as Israel has been locked in a bitter military and public relations conflict with the Palestinians (search) for the past three years.
The dispute surrounds the Oct. 20 airstrike on a car in the Nusseirat (search) camp, in which 10 Palestinians were killed, including two in the car, and more than 70 wounded.
To counter Palestinian claims that missiles were fired into a crowd of bystanders, the army called a briefing in which it displayed footage from an aircraft hovering overhead. The grainy black and white pictures showed the missiles striking a car in an empty street.
But the footage also showed that the pilots could not have seen Palestinians gathering in a nearby alley or sitting on covered sidewalks. They were apparently hit by shrapnel from the second missile.
At the briefing the army also emphasized that the helicopter gunships fired Hellfire missiles, which have a lighter warhead.
Lawmaker Yossi Sarid, from the dovish Meretz party, said he has information that a bomb was used that would guarantee high civilian casualties.
Sarid met with air force commander Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz on Wednesday, later saying: "There is no doubt that the original report (by the military) was incorrect. ... More investigation is needed."
Now, military correspondents say they have the same information and accuse the army of lying to them at the briefing. On the evening news on Wednesday, Channel Two TV's military reporter, Ronnie Daniel, said flatly, "They misled us."
In an announcement late Wednesday, the army admitted it might have handled the incident differently. The statement said that for "information security reasons and operational reasons, it was not possible to give full details" of the air strike.
Because of security considerations, the statement said, "it is possible that we erred in the way we chose to describe the weapons," a rare admission of fault.