Spotter plane seen over UN compound

MASSACRE AT QANA

It is a soldier's videotape, recorded - at the start at least - as just another incident to remember back home by a United Nations trooper after his six months' tour of duty in southern Lebanon is over.

Indeed, when the camera first records the Israeli shells tearing into the UN base at Qana, the other soldiers who appear in the film, most of them Norwegians in the UN's Force Mobile Reserve opposite Qana, seem unaware of its implications. One of them makes a joke, another looks gawkily into the camera even as it tapes the clouds of smoke obscuring Qana. The camera pans through barbed wire as more brown puffs of smoke emerge from the white-painted buildings of the UN's Fijian battalion headquarters.

Then UN officers can be seen at an observation post staring at Qana as the Israeli shells rain onto their colleagues and the helpless refugees across the valley. A group of Norwegian soldiers talk excitedly and the camera, its owner obviously growing aware of the gravity of the situation, moves in close-up towards Qana with a zoom lens until the videotape is filled with drifting smoke. Shortly afterwards the sound-track picks up the familiar buzzing sound of the Israeli "drone", final and irrefutable evidence that later Israeli denials were false - until the Israelis changed their story last night.

Refugees and UN officers had all talked of hearing the Israeli artillery "spotter" aircraft before and during the Israeli attack on the UN base. But here at last, in living colour, was the proof: distinct pictures of the small Israeli aircraft over Qana, the plane that the Israelis for two weeks claimed was never there.

One of the UN soldiers who saw the video being made says that neither he nor his colleagues understood in the first few seconds what was happening at Qana. "We know the Israelis are perfect in their accuracy. The previous day, when Katyushas had been fired a couple of miles away, we saw the Israeli return fire come back on the launch site with complete accuracy. We felt so safe about the Israeli artillery that we never went indoors when shells flew over.

"They knew we were here and so they never hit us. So we didn't even wear flak jackets when there were shell warnings. The Israelis knew what they were doing. And then we saw Qana and by the end, none of us believed it was an accident. Yes, the Israelis knew what they were doing. What do you think the 'drone' was for?"

A UN officer from a Nato nation who saw the videotape - a copy of which has been obtained by the Independent - before it was handed over to UN investigating General Frank van Kappen, was more emotional. "If the UN report is diluted to please the Israelis and the Americans, how is the UN going to live with it? How are we on the ground here supposed to pass by that mass grave [of more than 100 civilians in Qana] with a clear conscience?

"I and many others have risked our lives under constant Israeli shelling. We put up with their lies and the arrogance of their explanations. They blame us because we let unarmed Hizbollah men visit their families in our base. But back in 1984, Israeli soldiers were ambushed near my base and we let them in and protected them. Of course, the Israelis don't mention that now. But even if it means the end of my military career, I'll never say this was an accident. The Israelis knew they were firing at innocent people."

The UN have noted that an Israeli officer is also ensuring that his military career remains unblemished. For although the Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, denied knowing that more than 800 civilians were sheltering at the UN base at Qana on 18 April, Major General Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli army chief of intelligence, stated on the day of the massacre that the Israel Defence Forces knew of the civilian presence at Qana and that it was the Israeli army's Northern Command under General Amiram Levine - already reprimanded after his artillery fired into the village of Shaqra last year and killed a young Lebanese woman - which ignored the intelligence information.

"Yaalon knows something smells and he's keeping himself out of it," a European UN soldier said. "The Israeli investigation that Dan Harel [the brigadier commanding the Israeli Artillery Corp] carried out was cursory. He said they fired at the Katyushas and that only two rounds hit the UN base. This is bullshit. We know that at least 12 rounds hit the base, seven of them fitted with proximity fuses which explode the shells seven metres from the ground and are designed to kill the maximum number of people by inflicting amputation wounds."

Towards the end of the eight-minute videotape that has so transformed the UN's official investigation, the horror of Qana has been understood by the UN soldiers watching from the neighbouring hillside and by the amateur military cameraman. Just after he films the drone, he focuses the camera on a fire that is raging in the heart of the UN compound, the Fijian battalion conference room that was home to dozens of Lebanese refugees.

The flames burn white and red in the centre of the frame - the Israeli pilotless drone spotter-plane can still be heard on the sound-track - and then a pall of black smoke rises from the building in which the Lebanese civilians are being burned alive.

On the videotape, the soldier is now recording the UN radio. An Irish voice says: "Fijibatt headquarters is still under shelling." One of the UN soldiers who stood close to the cameraman was to tell me later that in one observation post a colleague could hear - a mile away across the valley at Qana - "a sort of chorus of screaming".

A set of still photographs of the shelling, which the Independent has also obtained, shows only one shell falling outside the compound, in the opposite direction to the Katyusha launch site at which the Israelis claim they were firing.

The last sequences of the tape are taken as the cameraman and his colleagues in the UN's Force Mobile Reserve, including Irish, Norwegian and Fijian soldiers, race in armoured vehicles to the Qana base amid a convoy of ambulances. In confusion, a medevac team drop an empty stretcher on the ground and then, drip-feed held over a figure on another stretcher, haul a wounded refugee into an ambulance. The camera moves to a hill where a white-painted UN helicopter with wounded on board is preparing to take off. On the ground in front of it stands an injured Lebanese woman, a bandage round her head, holding two small children by their hands.

As the rotor blades swish the air above them, the Italian pilot climbs out of the plane, shooing them away, moving his arms back and forth, ordering them back from the helicopter.

With a kind of desolation, the woman, in a blue dress, half her face in bandages, leads the two children down the hill from the helicopter, accompanied by two shocked Fijian UN soldiers.

Leading article, page 14

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home