US faces call to compensate for Qana dead

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The Independent Online
The Lebanese speaker of parliament has asked government officials to find out whether Lebanon can sue the United States for deaths and damage caused by Israel's use of American shells, missiles and bombs against Lebanon.

Nabih Berri, the Shia Muslim leader of the Amal movement - a prominent Shia militia during the Lebanese civil war - made his proposal in response to America's refusal to force Israel to pay $1,773,618 (about pounds 1.08m) for the damage and displacement caused by its shelling of the UN base at Qana on 18 April last year in which 109 Lebanese civilians were slaughtered.

Mr Berri, who represents south Lebanese constituents in parliament, has asked Lebanese diplomats at the UN in New York for a list of legal actions which might be taken against the US administration as well as names of American lawyers who would be prepared to take the Clinton administration to court. "We should file a lawsuit for compensation to the families of more than 100 children and civilians killed in the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) because American arms were the reason [for their deaths]," Mr Berri announced.

He was speaking shortly before The Independent revealed this week that most of the bombs and missiles used in Israel's Operations Grapes of Wrath last year - in which almost 200 civilians and 14 members of the pro-Iranian Hizbollah were killed - were "transfers" from stocks of American weapons originally manufactured for the US armed forces. Two Hellfire missiles fired by the Israelis at an ambulance on 13 April last year came from a supply of rockets that were made for the US Marine Corps and subsequently transferred to Israel. Four children and two women died in the attack on the ambulance.

Mr Berri, who must win the support of the Lebanese cabinet if his proposal is to be taken up, believes US courts could be forced to hear a Lebanese suit against the US government; he is also well aware of the anger expressed by US diplomats when Lebanon originally called for Israel to pay for the effects of the Qana massacre. The Israelis said they were aiming at a group of Hizbollah men near Qana who were firing mortars at Israeli troops - who in turn were placing booby-trap bombs in the UN zone.

US officials at the UN, it is understood, threatened to change the UN mandate in southern Lebanon - reducing its area of operations and thus placing more villages inside Israel's occupation zone - if the Lebanese did not give up their demand. Lebanon refused and gained the support of the European Union. Israel refused to pay any damages for the Qana bloodbath.

The Lebanese are under no illusions about the effect its law suit could have. "We are a small country and we cannot drive Israel out of the south," a government source said yesterday. "But there is international law and we know that much of the ammunition fired at our civilians by Israel comes from American. Why should Washington not be made to pay for this?"

Patience with Washington's pro-Israeli diplomacy has just about reached its end in Lebanon. The situation was not helped when Richard Jones, US ambassador to Lebanon explained that his country's rejection of a UN General Assembly vote for Israel to pay damages was prompted by Washington's belief that the matter should have been debated in the Security Council - where, of course, it would have been vetoed by the United States.