The deadly secret that led to bloodbath at Qana

When Israeli soldiers came under fire, prompting the shelling of the UN base, they were laying booby traps. Robert Fisk reports

Tyre - An Israeli army operation to plant booby-trap bombs inside the United Nations zone in southern Lebanon led to the Qana massacre last month in which well over 100 Lebanese civilians were killed by Israeli shells while sheltering in a UN base. It now emerges that the Israeli "patrol" which came under mortar fire from Hizbollah guerrillas on 18 April - the incident which led to the Qana bloodbath - had been tasked to leave plastic explosive charges and mines near the village of Henniyeh, about five miles from Qana.

The UN's official report, which suggested that the Israeli massacre of civilians was deliberate, quoted Brigadier General Dan Harel, the commander of the Israeli army's artillery corps, as saying that an Israeli patrol, whose location was not given, had come under mortar fire from the Qana area and that at least one round landed 40m from the Israeli troops. What had not hitherto been revealed was the task the Israeli soldiers had been engaged in, north of their occupation area and inside the UN zone, when they came under fire. A similar and even more complicated field of plastic mines and booby traps was left by Israeli soldiers close to the village of Bradchit in the UN's Irish battalion area at around the same time.

Shortly after the Israeli bombardment ended, it now transpires, Israeli officers met UN ordnance officers and handed them detailed maps of the booby traps and mines they had planted. Polish troops subsequently defused the booby traps at Henniyeh on a hilltop from which Katyusha rockets had been fired in the past, although the Irish army took longer to complete its disposal of the Bradchit minefield.

What has caused particular concern to UN personnel is that it was a roadside bomb in the village of Bradchit that killed a Lebanese teenager last month, an explosion which prompted the Hizbollah to blame Israel and fire Katyushas across the border into Galilee in retaliation. Shimon Peres said at the time that Israel had nothing to do with the Bradchit bombs and the Katyusha retaliation set off Israel's bloody Grapes of Wrath offensive. But the revelation that an Israeli unit was planting booby-trap devices in Bradchit and Henniyeh on 18 April has cast new doubt on Mr Peres's denial.

Nor did another claim by Mr Peres during his abortive campaign for re- election - that the Hizbollah fired rockets at Israel from "within" the UN compound at Qana - do anything to repair the cynical state of relations that now exist between Israel and the UN. Neither the Israeli army nor the UN believe that Hizbollah men opened fire on the Israelis from a UN position - the Hizbollah did so several 100 metres from the outer perimeter of the Qana camp - and UN officers are mystified as to why the Israeli Prime Minister should have made such a statement just before the election, when he must know that it was untrue.

"It was election time in Israel," a security source in southern Lebanon commented. "On such occasions, truth goes out the window."

The written ceasefire agreement that followed the end of the Israeli bombardment has meanwhile been rendered meaningless scarcely a day after Binyamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister.

The "monitoring committee" that was to have ensured that all parties complied with the truce terms has never met, and in the past three days the Hizbollah have killed four Israeli soldiers and two pro- Israeli militiamen inside the occupied zone of southern Lebanon. Since the ceasefire, the Israelis have also carried out three retaliatory air raids on Lebanon, without waiting for the truce committee to pronounce on Hizbollah attacks, as they are obliged to do under the truce agreement.

In an Israeli air raid on a Hizbollah arms dump near Baalbek before dawn yesterday, an attack which set off secondary explosions for an hour afterwards, three civilians were slightly wounded - another breach of the ceasefire terms, which state that civilians should not be harmed in any Israeli- Hizbollah battles inside Lebanon. Two civilians were also reported to have been wounded when the Hizbollah killed four Israeli soldiers at Marjayoun on Thursday.

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