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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Israel used precision bomb to hit UN officers

UN: Israel used precision bomb to hit UN officers
By Evelyn Leopold
Fri Sep 29, 3:40 PM ET / reuters



Israel used a precision-guided bomb to launch a direct hit on four U.N. peacekeepers killed in southern Lebanon last July, the United Nations said on Friday of its probe into the incident.

But a report by a special U.N.-appointed board of inquiry could not affix blame because Israel did not allow the access to operational or tactical level commanders involved in the July 25 disaster at Khiam. Four military observers died, officers from Austria, Canada, China and Finland.

Therefore, the board was "unable to determine why the attacks on the U.N. position were not halted, despite repeated demarches (communications) to the Israeli authorities from U.N. personnel, both in the field and in U.N. headquarters," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement.

Annan said the U.N. bunker at Khiam "was struck by a 500- kilogram precision-guided aerial bomb."

Despite not drawing any conclusions, a senior U.N. official briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said precision-guided munitions were "precision-guided and meant to hit the targets they hit, which was the United Nations."

"War is hell, peacekeeping is not supposed to be," the official said.

Israel has accepted full responsibility for the incident and apologized to the United Nations for the army's "tragic operational mistake." But Annan and other officials made clear they were not able to verify if and how the error occurred.

The report was released only to Austria, Canada, China and Finland because such investigations are not publicized to preserve the confidentiality of informants in future probes.

"In this particular case, since the Israeli government also conducted its own investigation which they released, we also felt it's necessary to speak about the conclusion of ours," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Israel presented its findings on September 15 to the four countries that lost peacekeepers and then briefed reporters.

'HOSTILE ACTIVITY'

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said maps of the area had been incorrect. "There was a mishap on the Israeli side where in duplication of maps, the U.N. position on the maps was not marked as it should have been and that created the tragedy," he said.

Israel launched an offensive into Lebanon after Hizbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.

Regev said the investigation found that about 100 metres (yards) from the U.N. position there was a Hizbollah position where there was "hostile activity."

U.N. officials agreed Hizbollah guerrillas were at a base in the area as well as in a nearby prison. But they said there was no activity from the militia on July 25 and the U.N. bunker was clearly marked.

Jane Holl Lute, a deputy head of U.N. peacekeeping operations, told the U.N. Security Council on July 26 there were 21 strikes within 300 metres (yards) of the observer post during the six hours before it was completely destroyed.

Twelve of the 21 struck within 100 metres, including four that scored direct hits, Holl Lute said.

While there was speculation Israel may have been targeting Hizbollah positions near the Khiam post, Holl Lute said there was no Hizbollah firing coming from near the outpost.

An Irish army officer in south Lebanon warned Israeli forces six times that its strikes threatened the lives of the four observers, Ireland's Foreign Ministry said.

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