The claim, which threatens to spark a diplomatic storm over the conduct of Israeli commanders during last month's conflict in Lebanon, is contained in a first draft of a report completed for the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, by his military adviser, General Frank Van Kappen.
"This is the most devastating item in his report," a senior UN official confirmed last night. "It seems that they knew where most of the civilians were and aimed for that area."
The UN refused last night to reveal any details of the report's content and insisted that it was still subject to changes by General Van Kappen. "The truth is that it is not ready yet," Sylvana Foa, the UN's spokeswoman said.
The UN facility at Qana, which served as the headquarters of a Fijian battalion of peacekeepers in the area, was destroyed by Israeli shells on 18 April. It was crammed with Lebanese refugees and more than 100 were killed. It appears that when the bombardment started, most of the civilians were gathered just outside the entrance.
While it was widely known that General Van Kappen had concluded that the camp had been deliberately targeted in the attack, his charge that the shells were even more carefully aimed to hit the greatest number of civilians adds another powerful dimension to his conclusions.
Mitigating the evidence against Israel, however, is the revelation that Hizbollah guerrillas who had been firing Katyusha rockets into Israeli territory from a placement close to the UN camp had been running in and out of its boundary and using it as a hiding place. For this reason, it appears, the Israeli commanders considered the camp a fair target.
Moroever, General Van Kappen reportedly suggests that the Fijian commanders were fully aware of the guerrillas' presence.
Diplomats said they expected Mr Boutros-Ghali to offer an oral briefing on the General's findings to the UN Security Council on Monday afternoon. Israel has been given until noon on Monday to offer fresh evidence contradicting General Van Kappen. Failing that, his report is expected to stand as now drafted.
It is unclear what will happen to the report itself.Reuse content