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Israel protests U.N. conclusion that camp shelling wasn't an error

United Nations

May 7, 1996
Web posted at: 10:40 p.m. EDT (0240 GMT)

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The United Nations has completed its investigation into the Israeli shelling of a U.N. camp in Cana, Lebanon, in which 102 civilians died. The report, carrying through with a preliminary finding that the shelling was not an accident, set off a formal protest from the Israeli government to U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

More than 800 Lebanese civilians fled to the Cana camp seeking protection from Israel's "Operation Grapes of Wrath," an attempt to destroy Hezbollah bases in southern Lebanon. When an Israeli bombshell struck the U.N. camp, 102 Lebanese refugees were killed.

Boutros-Ghali

The final draft of the U.N. investigation, whose preliminary findings were released last week, went to press Tuesday. It said, "While the possibility cannot be ruled out completely, it is unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors."

Ma. Gen. Frank van Kappen of the Netherlands investigated the April 18 shelling, and asked Israel last week for information that might disprove his group's initial conclusion.

However, such information was not produced. The report said that contrary to repeated denials, two Israeli helicopters and a remotely piloted vehicle were present in the Cana area at the time of the shelling. The helicopters and the drone should have told Israeli soldiers that they were aiming at a U.N. base, and that there were civilians nearby. Israel claims that the drone did not detect any civilians.

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In his introduction to the report, Boutros-Ghali said the pattern of impacts make it unlikely that the shelling of the U.N. compound was the result of technical errors. However, he noted that Israel blames the incident on a sequence of operational mistakes and technical failures, compounded by chance.

Minutes before Israel shelled the base, Hezbollah missiles were fired over the Israel-Lebanon border from locations within 300 meters of the base. Israel said it overshot its intended target when it hit the Cana base.

Fire

"We had some errors, we had some mistakes," said Brig. Gen. Dan Harel of the Israeli Defense Forces. "We came out very frankly with it and we're going to deal with it and we changed some procedures to make sure nothing like this will ever happen again."

Harel said the main problem from Israel's perspective was that Hezbollah fighters were shooting at Israeli forces just 180 meters from the U.N. compound. "We fired back because we didn't have any choice, it was rescue fire," he said. "As I've said before, we're very sorry for that, but we had to stop the Katyusha fire before they killed our guys."

Cana cleanup

The report also said that two or three Hezbollah guerrillas entered the compound, where their families were sheltered. It was not clear whether this happened before or after the shelling. It stopped short of saying that Israel deliberately targeted the base.

Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak suggested in his protest to Boutros-Ghali Tuesday that the negative tone of this report could slow down Middle East peace talks. Barak said the charges are false, and warned that "they could damage relations between Israel and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon."

Boutros-Ghali has stressed throughout the investigation that he has tried to be fair and even-handed. A statement released by Israel's U.N. mission said that Boutros-Ghali "is aware of the implications that the report's findings could have for the Middle East peace process."

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