We did not kill deliberately, Israel says

Storm at UN follows Independent revelation of Qana video tape
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Israel yesterday mounted a high stakes campaign at the United Nations to deflect allegations that it intentionally targeted refugees in Lebanon last month.

More than 100 refugees were killed when Israeli shells hit the Qana camp in southern Lebanon. The military commander in charge of the Israeli offensive, General Dan Harel, presented senior UN officials with military information, including aerial photographs and detailed maps, to offer contrary evidence to a UN report that claims that the shelling on 18 April was calculated and deliberate. Denying the shelling of the camp was deliberate, General Harel insisted: "That thing cannot happen in a democratic country like Israel."

The Israeli general was questioned about the presence in the area of an Israeli pilotless reconnaissance plane, which UN officials say indicates conclusively that the Israeli forces knew where their shells were falling. General Harel said it had only been dispatched there "just after we heard from the UN" that the base had been hit.

But a video tape, the existence of which was revealed by the Independent yesterday, showed the aircraft flying in the area before and during the shelling of the Qana base. Lebanon, it emerged yesterday, asked for permission several days ago to show the video to the UN General Assembly.

Arab nations were preparing yesterday to demand fresh action from the UN Security Council on the shelling. The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, held talks with the UN Security Council last night and promised that the report into the attack on Qana would be released and denied widespread suspicions that he had come under pressure to ensure it never sees the light of day.

However, Mr Boutros-Ghali declined to comment on the contents of the report or whether he believed it proved that Israel had directly targeted the installation. He said he was setting up a working group of his most senior political advisors to consider both the report and evidence submitted to the UN by General Harel.

The Secretary-General is expected to return to the council later this week to brief on his final assessment of the Qana incident when the discussions of the working group have ended. "It is a very grave matter and ... I think it is very important that the council pronounces itself on this incident in a proper way," said the Egyptian ambassador to the UN, Nabil El-Arabi.

There was speculation in New York as to what Mr Boutros-Ghali would seek to do with the report when he meets the Security Council. He is believed to have come under pressure from the United States to play down the report's findings and to avoid rekindling diplomatic controversy over Qana.

There were signs that even the Arab states were uncertain about the benefits of making an issue of the report. Like the US, Arab governments may be nervous about any new diplomatic furore that could destabilise the ceasefire that has been established in southern Lebanon.

The UN's reputation also stands to be damaged by the report's contents, because of an indication that the Fijian peace-keepers were aware that Hizbollah guerrillas who were firing rockets into northern Israel had been using the base as a place to hide from Israeli attack. While stopping short of an apology for the incident, General Harel said yesterday: "Unfortunately, some of our shells went into the Qana headquarters. But it is clear that this absolutely was not deliberate."