In a devastating blow to Israel’s credibility, a United Nations report released Tuesday rejects the government’s assertion that the shelling of a U.N. base last month in which nearly 100 Lebanese refugees died was the result of technical or human error.
The nine-page report stops short of accusing Israel of having intentionally fired on the base April 18 during its “Operation Grapes of Wrath” campaign against Islamic guerrillas in southern Lebanon. And it notes that guerrillas had fired from positions near the base at Qana and sought refuge inside.
But the U.N. investigation takes apart point-by-point the Israeli Defense Forces’ claim the incident was an accident.
Israeli officials had maintained that the army fired at two targets - Hezbollah rocket or mortar sites - 200-300 yards from the base, and that their artillery shells could have overshot their mark.
The most damaging point of the report - and to Israel’s case - has been proof that Israel flew surveillance aircraft over the camp while the firing was going on.
Israel denied this until the British newspaper The Independent reported the existence of an amateur videotape showing an Israeli pilotless reconnaissance aircraft - the kind used by artillery spotters to perfect their aim - over Qana during the shelling.
The Israeli army then changed its story, saying that the pilotless aircraft, or drone, had been in the area but on a different mission. Israeli officials said the aircraft was dispatched to Qana only after the shelling ended.
In the report, Boutros-Ghali’s military adviser, Maj. Gen. Frank van Kappen, says, “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.”
Van Kappen’s report noted that Hezbollah guerrillas were firing rockets from positions only 200 yards from the compound at Qana. It also said that “two or three Hezbollah fighters” entered the compound where their families had taken shelter.
Van Kappen, a Dutch officer, wrote that he found evidence of 13 shell detonations in and around the compound. Additionally, he said: “The pattern of impacts is inconsistent with a normal overshooting of the declared target (the mortar site) by a few rounds as suggested by the Israeli forces.
“During the shelling, there was a perceptible shift in the weight of fire from the mortar site to the United Nations compound.