Land mines and deadly Israeli fire Planting of booby traps may have led to massacre

June 09, 1996|By Robert Fisk

TYRE, Lebanon -- Another disturbing element in the story of the Qana massacre has fallen into place with the disclosure that the Israeli "patrol" which came under mortar fire from Hezbollah guerrillas on April 18 -- the incident that led to the massacre of more than 100 Lebanese refugees by Israeli shells in the United Nations camp at Qana the same day -- had been planting booby-trap bombs inside the U.N.'s area of operations.

Two hours after the cease-fire which ended the 18-day Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, it now emerges, Israeli troops asked U.N. personnel to defuse a large and complex mine field that included plastic explosive charges and booby traps just outside the village of Henniyeh.

The U.N.'s official report suggests that the massacre was deliberate, and quotes Brig. Gen. Dan Harel, the commander of the Israeli army's artillery corps, as saying that an Israeli patrol -- whose location was not given -- had come under mortar fire from the Qana area and that at least one round landed 40 meters from the Israeli troops.

What was not revealed was the task upon which the Israeli soldiers had been engaged north of their occupation area -- and inside the U.N. zone -- when they came under fire.

A similar and even more complicated field of plastic mines and booby traps was left close to the village of Bradchit in the U.N.'s Irish battalion area.

At a series of meetings between ordnance personnel of the two sides, the Israelis handed detailed maps of the mine fields to the U.N.

Polish troops subsequently defused the booby traps at Henniyeh -- which had been left on a hilltop from which Katyusha rockets had been fired in the past.

What has also caused concern to U.N. personnel is that it was a roadside bomb in the village of Bradchit that killed a Lebanese teenager last month, an explosion which prompted Hezbollah to blame Israel and fire rockets across the border into Galilee in retaliation.

Recently defeated Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres said at the time that Israel had nothing to do with the Bradchit bombs -- the Katyusha retaliation set off Israel's bloody "Grapes of Wrath" offensive -- but the revelation that an Israeli unit was planting booby trap devices in Bradchit and Henniyeh on April 18 has cast new doubt on Peres' denial.

Nor has yet another claim by Peres -- that Hezbollah fired rockets at Israel from "within" the U.N. compound at Qana -- done anything to repair the cynical state of relations that now exist between Israel and the U.N.

Neither the Israeli army nor the U.N. believe that Hezbollah men opened fire on the Israelis from a U.N. position -- the Hezbollah did so several hundred meters from the outer perimeter -- and U.N. officers are mystified as to why the former Israeli prime minister should make such a statement when he must know that it is untrue.

"It [was] election time in Israel," a security source in southern Lebanon commented. "Unfortunately, truth goes out the window."

This article was distributed by the New York Times Special Features. 1996 The Independent, London.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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