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 unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
News
people
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

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world