Israeli attack 'not a surprise' Officials, witnesses describe close calls at other U.N. posts

April 20, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

QANA, Lebanon -- Israeli shells had previously hit two other United Nations posts and fallen close to U.N. convoys during the bombardment of South Lebanon before Thursday's artillery strike killed at least 75 refugees here.

Four Fijian soldiers were wounded and remain hospitalized.

Frequent targets

The U.N. soldiers at the camp were tight-lipped about the Israeli raid. But through its 18-year-history here, UNIFIL troops in Lebanon have frequently found themselves the target of Israeli force.

The current bombardment of South Lebanon, in which UNIFIL has accommodated about 7,000 refugees and tried to help thousands of others, has increased the severity of those incidents, officials say.

A U.N. post manned by Ghanaian soldiers at Sultaniyah, about 15 miles southeast of Tyre, was hit by shells early in current campaign, according to U.N. spokesman Mikael Lindvall.

The Nepalese position, at Marjdel Zun, 9 miles south of Tyre, was hit Wednesday by "three or four bombs by jets," Mr. Lindvall said.

Israelis have bombed near U.N. truck convoys marked with huge black-and-white U.N. letters, have made "mock raids" on other U.N. posts, and have shelled near a work party trying to clear a road for relief supplies, Mr. Lindvall said.

"We had about 30 shells from an Israeli 155-millimeter convoy fall within 60 meters of our convoy," said Capt. Robert Corbet, an Irish peacekeeper whose seven-vehicle relief convoy was halted by shelling in southern Lebanon Monday.

"We had to turn back. We tried three more times, and they stopped us."

Daed Dor, 24, said she was in the Marjdel Zun camp when it was bombed by Israeli jets.

"When we came out of the shelter, everything had been destroyed," she said. "We were without water or electricity for two days."

'We warned civilians'

Israeli Chief of Staff Amnon Shahak on Thursday defended the use of shelling near either U.N. or civilian positions in South Lebanon. He said Hezbollah guerrillas use both as a shield, and said Israel will not be discouraged from attacking.

"We warned civilians to stay away from Hezbollah terrorists," he said this week.

Israeli officials note that the U.N. soldiers have bomb shelters. The thousands of civilians who flocked to many of the 70 U.N. posts because of the current bombardment cannot fit in the shelters.

"I find it surprising so many civilians [were at Qana] without adequate shelters," General Shahak said.

Israeli officials have said the Qana casualties were an unfortunate result of civilians being too close to guerrilla targets.

U.N. officials say they try to move Hezbollah away from the camps when they are seen to be firing Katyushas nearby. A Fijian officer was shot in the side this week when he argued with Hezbollah to get them to move away from a post.

Mr. Lindvall said the U.N. immediately radios Israel and fires red flares whenever shelling comes close to one of its posts.

In the case of Qana, "the firing continued a few hours after our Operations Room called the Israelis, and after we fired a red flare," he said.

Capt. Corbet noted that the Israeli gunners, who have positions overlooking the area, should be well aware of the exact positions of the U.N. camps.

"Those camps haven't moved in 18 years," he said.

Pub Date: 4/20/96

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