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Israel Investigates Strike on U.N. Observers

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Israel Investigates Strike on U.N. Observers

Middle East

Israel Investigates Strike on U.N. Observers

Israel Investigates Strike on U.N. Observers

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An Israeli air strike Tuesday struck a U.N. post in Lebanon, killing at least three U.N. observers.


For more about yesterday's Israeli airstrike on that U.N. post in Lebanon, we turn now to NPR's Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem. Linda, what is the Israeli military saying today about what happened yesterday?

LINDA GRADSTEIN: Well, they won't give details. They say that the issue is still under investigation and they don't know exactly how the mistake happened. However, they completely reject any allegations that Israel deliberately targeted a U.N. base.

But they said that it will be investigated, that Israel will also cooperate with the U.N. and will ask the U.N. for any information that they have. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. He said that Israel deeply regrets the incident and Annan apparently accepted the apology.

One of the interesting things is the Irish Foreign Ministry put out a statement today saying that an Irish peacekeeper, who was sort of a liaison between Israel and the UNIFIL troops, told Israeli officials six times that the Israeli bombing raids could kill UNIFIL troops and Israel ignored that warning.

NORRIS: Well, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has now said he's accepted an apology, as you just noted and as was noted in Sylvia Poggioli's piece, but what are people there in Israel saying about this?

GRADSTEIN: A lot of Israelis that I spoke to, both, you know, officials and sort of, you know, people on the street, were quite angry at Kofi Annan's accusations. They said they felt that he sort of jumped to conclusions and they, you know, said that they're sure that Israel did not do it deliberately and to accuse Israel of doing it deliberately really made people quite angry about it.

NORRIS: What about these U.N. observers? What were they doing in southern Lebanon, which is now a war zone?

GRADSTEIN: Well, Israel withdrew from Lebanon in the year 2000 and the U.N. observers were there to make sure that the Israeli withdrawal, certify that it was complete, maintain that it remained complete. They are not armed and they were not supposed to have any military role. They were there solely as observers.

NORRIS: We've heard about this U.N. post. Do you know anything more about what actually took place there? What was in that building?

GRADSTEIN: I know that it was - one of the things that Timur Goksel, who used to be the spokesman for the UNIFIL troops and was there a long time, said that it had been a center post for the United Nations for four years and he said that Israel really should have known that it was there. It's not something new. At the same time Israeli officials have said to me that the United Nation troops were not necessarily impartial observers and that they were prejudiced against Israel.

NORRIS: But at the same time they're asserting that this was not a deliberate strike?

GRADSTEIN: They're asserting it was not a deliberate strike and as the army spokeswoman said to me, you know, the last thing we need with everything going on is trouble with the United Nations.

NORRIS: And if this was not a deliberate strike, does it raise questions about the accuracy and the targets, the weapons that they use in these air strikes?

GRADSTEIN: Well, it does and it comes as - for the first time really in the two weeks of fighting, questions are being raised in Israel about what are the military goals of this war? Why after two weeks of fighting is Hezbollah still able to fire, on average, more than 100 Katyusha rockets a day and where is this whole thing going? So it's sort of in the context of a broader beginning to question of what are the goals of this war and is the army making mistakes.

NORRIS: Thank you, Linda.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Linda Gradstein speaking to us from Jerusalem.

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