The United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, last night published a controversial report which casts overwhelming doubt on Israel's claims that the attack on a UN base housing refugees in Lebanon in which 100 people died was an accident.
In a day of drama at the UN, Mr Boutros-Ghali went ahead with publication of the report in spite of last-minute pressure from Israel not to do so. In an apparent attempt to block publication, Israel warned the UN that publication could harm relations between it and Unifil, the peace- keeping force in southern Lebanon.
The report questions, point by point, Israel's assertion that it was the result of a mapping error. It also cites the video film - exclusively revealed by the Independent - which shows a remote reconnaissance drone over the UN base at Qana where refugees had camped at the time of the attack.
"While the possibility cannot be ruled out completely, the pattern of impacts in the Qana area makes it unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of technical and/or procedural errors," the Secretary-General stated in a letter to the UN Security Council last night.
Though the report, prepared for the Secretary-General by his military adviser, General Frank Van Kappen, holds back from stating unequivocally that the attack on the Qana base, which killed 100 Lebanese civilians, was a deliberate act by the Israeli defence forces,
The six-page report by General Van Kappen exposes several areas of inconsistency between the explanations offered to him by Israeli officers of the events on 18 April and the evidence found by himself on the ground in the aftermath of the attack and verbal accounts offered by witnesses.
Mr Boutros-Ghali chose to publish the report despite a call yesterday from the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ehud Barak, who told the Secretary- General that any suggestion of intent by Israel was "absurd".
Mr Barak also, according to an official Israeli press communique, stated that the publication of the charges could "damage relations between Israel and Unifil". Unifil is the acronym for the buffer peace-keeping force that has been deployed in southern Lebanon by the UN since 1978 and which depends on the continuing goodwill of Israel for its existence. Sources said that the Secretary-General responded furiously to Mr Barak and told him curtly that the report was already with the UN printers and would be circulated.
The Secretary-General's decision will also put him at odds with the United States which warned against rekindling diplomatic controversy in the wake of the Qana tragedy. James Rubin, spokesman for Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the UN, said: "I am very disturbed by the unjustified conclusions of the report."
In his report, General Van Kappen betrays profound scepticism over Israel's central claim that, in response to fire at its forces from two Hizbollah mortar placements near to the Qana base, it targeted both sites and that incorrect mapping information supplied by its Northern Command led to some of the shells overshooting one mortar site and striking the base.
Among other things, the general concludes that: no shells struck the second of the alleged Israeli targets; the concentration of fire appeared to shift from the first mortar site to Qana in the course of the shelling; contrary to earlier Israeli claims a higher ratio of proximity fuse shells, that explode over ground and are generally used to kill maximum numbers of personnel, were used than normal shells which explode on ground impact.
He also notes the early denials by Israel that there were any aircraft in the area at the time of the shelling. Citing a video, obtained by the Independent this week, that shows a remote reconnaissance aircraft over Qana at the time of the attack, he suggests that the claim was untrue.
General Dan Harel, commander of the Israeli artillery forces, said: "I think to say the least the report is not accurate."
Further reports, page 9
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