Amnesty to condemn Israel over Qana massacre

Robert Fisk
Monday 22 July 1996 23:02

Israel will come under scathing criticism from Amnesty International tomorrow when the organisation publishes its report on the massacre of civilians at the UN's headquarters in Qana and on other civilian casualties of Israel's April bombardment of southern Lebanon.

According to sources in Beirut, Amnesty's investigation team - which included a retired Dutch army general and which visited both Lebanon and Israel - has concluded that the Israeli attack on the UN compound at Qana, in which over 100 civilians died, was deliberate and that Israel's own inquiry into the killings was cursory.

Amnesty - whose report is said to be much more critical than that of the UN's own investigators, who concluded that it was "unlikely" the Israelis shelled Qana in error - is also believed to have harsh words for the Hizbollah, criticising its irresponsibility for firing mortars at Israeli troops from close to the Qana compound when they must have realised the danger to civilians sheltering near by.

It is now known that the Amnesty team was told by UN officials in Lebanon that only a day before Israel's assault on the UN's Fijian battalion headquarters at Qana, another attack - hitherto unrevealed - took place against a UN Nepalese battalion post at Majdel Zun in southern Lebanon. Eight Israeli shells landed inside this UN compound - some fitted with the deadly proximity fuses that slaughtered so many at Qana the following day - but on this occasion refugees had been herded into bomb shelters and there were no civilian casualties. There had been no prior warnings from the Israelis before the attack on the Nepalese and no Hizbollah fire from the vicinity prior to the Israeli shellfire.

Amnesty expressed its grave concern at the killing of Lebanese civilians at the height of Israel's bombardment but its detailed report, compiled less than a month later, is believed to concentrate on violations of "the laws of war" by both sides. It is said that it will demand compensation for Israel's civilian victims and punishment for the Israelis responsible for the Qana massacre. Sources say it also demands - unrealistically, of course - that the United States and Iran should place restrictions on the use of weapons they provide to Israel and the Hizbollah which would prevent the further killing of civilians.

The Amnesty report is also understood to condemn Israel for two other attacks on civilian targets during its "Grapes of Wrath" operation. Amnesty investigated the killing of four children and two women in a Lebanese ambulance which was attacked by an Israeli helicopter at al-Mansouri in southern Lebanon on 13 April, and the killing by another Israeli pilot of seven children and two adult civilians in their home at Nabatea on 18 April, just a few hours before the Qana slaughter. The report is said to conclude that the Israelis responsible for these killings should also be brought to justice.

The Amnesty team is known to have talked to Hizbollah as well as Israeli officials, and the report is understood to detail Hizbollah's rocket attacks upon northern Israel, something which Hizbollah leaders have openly admitted; Amnesty has already condemned such attacks as a breach of international law and is understood to have repeated this condemnation in its report.

In Beirut yesterday, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah leader, told journalists that his organisation had tried to find the missing Israeli airman Ron Arad who was captured by Palestinians after being shot down during a raid on Sidon in 1986. Mr Nasrallah claimed that Arad had been mysteriously taken from his prison cell after capture but that the Hizbollah did not know his whereabouts. His press conference followed the freeing of 45 Lebanese prisoners from the Israeli jail at Khiam on Sunday and the exchange of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers for the remains of 123 Hizbollah guerrillas. When Hizbollah released 17 pro-Israeli militiamen, however, all 17 told their Israeli-paid officers that they wished to remain in Beirut.

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