Error is ruled out by military expert

Massacre at Qana: Report by UN investigator rejects official Israeli explanation of attack on Fijian compound
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The Independent Online
This is an edited text of the report by Major-General Franklin van Kappen on the shelling of the UN compound at Qana, which was presented to the UN Security Council yesterday. Israeli account In the early afternoon of 18 April, an Israeli patrol had come under fire from Qana. Israeli locating radar had identified two separate targets in Qana from where fire had originated. The first was located 200m or so south-west of the UN compound; the second was 350m south-east.

The data had been sent automatically to the Northern Command and to an artillery battalion on the Israel-Lebanon border, which checked the targets on a map and found that one of the two was close to the UN position at Qana.

The commanding officer sought instructions from Northern Command, which re-checked the data and gave permission to fire. This decision had not been taken lightly; officers of some seniority had been involved.

The first target had been engaged by one battery. Thirty-eight shells had been fired, about two-thirds with impact fuses and one-third with proximity fuses. (Proximity fuses cause a round to explode in the air above the target; they are often used for anti-personnel fire.) The two types of fuses had been employed in random order.

Convergence fire had been used so the impacts would be concentrated in the target area. Regrettably, a few rounds overshot and hit the UN compound.

The commanding officer of the artillery battalion had no satisfactory explanation why so many shells had fallen some 200m north of the intended target. Asked if he had shifted fire during the shelling, he said he had not; he added that there would have been no time to change target data.

The commanding officer's replies indicated a high professional standard. The second target had been engaged by another battery, which fired 40 rounds.

In response to repeated questions, the Israelis stated that there had been no Israeli aircraft, helicopters, or remotely piloted vehicles (RPV) in the air over Qana before, during or after the shelling. (These would have enabled the Israelis to observe the target area and adjust fire.)

However, General Vilnai (Deputy Chief of General Staff) promised to look into this again. On 26 April, Brigadier-General David Tzur, Chief Israeli Liaison Officer to Foreign Forces, confirmed in writing that there were "no choppers or Mini-RPVs flying above the area of Qana on 18 April, before, or during the incident".

The Israeli officers stated that Israeli forces were not aware at the time of the shelling that a large number of civilians had taken refuge in the compound.

They emphasised it was not Israeli policy to target civilians or the UN. On the contrary, the Israeli forces had made every effort to avoid the lose of innocent lives. The incident was, therefore, all the more deeply regretted.

Between 1200 and 1400, Hizbollah fighters fired two or three rockets from 350m southeast of the UN compound. Between 1230 and 1300, they fired four or five rockets from 600m south- east of the compound. About 15 minutes before the shelling, they fired between five and eight rounds of 120mm mortar from 220m south-west of the centre of the compound. The mortar was installed between 1100 and 1200 hours that day, but no action was taken by Unifil personnel to remove it. (On 15 April, a Fijian was shot after he tried to prevent Hizbollah fighters from firing rockets.)

The UN had taken in a large number of Lebanese seeking shelter from the Israeli bombardments. On the day of the shelling, their number is estimated to have been well over 800. When the Fijians heard the mortar being fired, they moved civilians into shelters to protect them from Israeli retaliation. At some point (it is not clear whether before or after the shelling), two or three Hizbollah entered the compound, where their families were.

Thirty-six impacts were found in the Qana area. The distribution was uneven; there were two areas where impacts were concentrated and two "stray" impacts. The first concentration was 100m south of the compound, on a group of houses 75m north-west of the mortar-firing point. In all 17 shells (16 with impact fuses, one with proximity) landed south of the compound.

The second concentration was on the middle of the UN compound. There was evidence of proximity-fused ammunition detonating directly above the compound. The evidence suggests eight such projectiles detonated over the compound and one just outside. There was evidence that five point- detonating projectiles detonated in the compound and three close to it. In sum, evidence was found of 11 detonations inside or directly above the compound and four very close to it. Almost all the proximity-fuses were used in the area of the UN compound. No impacts were found at the second target area identified by the Israeli forces.

Witnesses reported that there had been during the shelling a perceptible shift in the weight of fire from an area south-west of the compound (the mortar site) to the compound itself.

Several witnesses said they saw an RPV over the Qana area before, during and after the shelling. Two helicopters were seen 2km south-east of the compound during the attack and one was observed after the shelling had finished. The presence of a helicopter and an RPV was documented on a video tape.

The presence of a helicopter and an RPV was documented on the video tape. The RPV on the tape was of a type with a real time data link facility.

The report's main conclusions

The distribution of impacts shows two distinct concentrations, whose mean points of impact are about 140m apart. If the guns were converged, as stated by the Israeli forces, there should have been only one mean point of impact.

The pattern of impacts is inconsistent with normal overshooting by a few rounds, as suggested by the Israelis.

During the shelling, there was a perceptible shift in the weight of fire from the mortar site to the compound.

The distribution of point-impact detonations and airbursts makes it improbable that impact-fuzes and proximity- fuzes were employed in random order, as stated by the Israeli forces.

Contrary to repeated denials, two Israeli helicopters and a remotely piloted vehicle were present in the Qana area at the time of the shelling.

While it cannot be ruled out, it is unlikely the shelling was the result of technical or procedural errors.