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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before