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Massacre film puts Israel in dock

UN soldier's video reveals reconnaisance plane was over Qana as shelling killed 100 refugees

Robert Fisk
Sunday 05 May 1996 23:02 BST

A dramatic amateur videotape of the Israeli shelling of the United Nations base at Qana last month, in which more than 100 Lebanese civilians were massacred, has convinced United Nations investigators that the Israelis deliberately targeted the UN compound and were well aware that it was packed with refugees when they fired at it.

The colour videotape, a copy of which has been obtained by the Independent, clearly shows an Israeli pilotless reconnaisance aircraft - used by artillery spotters to perfect their aim - flying over Qana at the height of the shelling on 18 April. Senior Israeli officers have repeatedly denied to the UN that they were using a low-flying drone at the time, but the tape provides incontrovertible evidence that these statements were untrue.

In Israel last night, the Israeli army - having been told that the video exists - suddenly changed its story and admitted there was a drone over Qana but said - without explanation - that the pilotless aircraft was "on a different mission" and was not sending pictures. The Israelis also said that they made a "cartographic error" and had placed the UN camp 150 yards from its actual position. It also said that when a drone took pictures of the camp two days before the massacre - on 16 April - they saw "no sign of civilians".

A UN source in southern Lebanon last night ridiculed the Israeli statement. "The UN camp has been in Qana for 18 years. They have pictures of every village in southern Lebanon and know who lives in every house there. Once again, the Israelis are insulting our intelligence. They had been flying drones over Qana for a week before the massacre. And even if they thought there were no civilians in the camp - which we had told them there were - does that mean they thought it was legitimate to shell a UN military headquarters?"

For two weeks, the UN source said, the Israelis had been flying drones over Qana. "Now they are saying there was a drone on 'a different mission'. They have a duty to explain what that mission was - otherwise we are standing by the evidence of the eyewitnesses and the videotape showing the drone over Qana."

The videotape which forced the Israelis to change their story was unequivocal. In two sequences, the propellor-driven monoplane, which takes television pictures of the ground, can be seen flying low over Qana as shells fall on to the UN's Fijian battalion headquarters. The tape was made by a UN soldier a mile from Qana. By chance, he was carrying his video camera when the Israeli bombardment began. His remarkable filmed evidence - of which the Israelis were unaware at the time - now forms the focus of the still secret UN report prepared for Boutros Boutros Ghali, the UN Secretary- General, by Dutch marine General Frank van Kappen who visited the site of the massacre and completed his interviews with both UN and Israeli soldiers on 26 April.

Much of the UN report was written by a serving British Army officer, Colonel Geoffrey Dodds, who accompanied General van Kappen to Lebanon, and who - like the general - concluded that the Israeli explanations of the shelling were untrue. Colonel Dodds, a Royal Engineer, works in the general's office in New York.

UNIFIL officers in Lebanon and diplomats of the UN troop- contributing countries - they include Norway, Ireland, France, Poland, Fiji, Ghana and Nepal - fear Mr Boutros Ghali will water down the still-secret report or suppress it in his desire to seek re-election as UN secretary general.

The US government refused to condemn the massacre and accepts Israel's claims that its American-made howitzers fired "in error" on the refugees under UN protection at Qana while trying to target the source of nearby Hizbollah rockets.

General van Kappen's report acknowledges that the Hizbollah men who fired two rockets from near the UN base later ran unarmed into the compound but states that the Israeli shelling represented not an error but a deliberate change of trajectory which aimed the Israeli shells at the refugee-packed compound. UN investigators did not find a single Israeli shell impact at the site in a cemetery south-west of the compound from where the rockets were fired.

Leading article page 14

Letters, page 14

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