US blocks UN from condemning Israel

UN officials say IDF ignored pleas before post was hit and 4 observers killed.

UN blast 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
UN blast 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The United States blocked the UN Security Council on Wednesday from issuing a statement that would have condemned Israel's bombing of a UN post on the Lebanon border that killed four military observers overnight Tuesday. US diplomats refused to comment, and US Ambassador John Bolton was in Washington preparing for a new confirmation hearing before the Senate; however, several diplomats said the United States objected to one paragraph, which said the council "condemns any deliberate attack against UN personnel and emphasizes that such attacks are unacceptable."
Earlier Wednesday, UN officials said that the UN observers in Lebanon had telephoned the IDF 10 times in six hours to ask it to stop shelling near their position. Jane Lute, assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, told the UN Security Council in New York that the UN observation post near Khiam came under close IDF fire 21 times Tuesday - including 12 hits within 100 yards and five direct hits - until the peacekeepers' post was destroyed. UN officials said Hezbollah guerillas had been operating in the area of the post near the eastern end of the border with Israel, a routine tactic to prevent Israel from attacking them. "We did repeatedly in recent days say (to Israel) that this was an exposed position, that Hezbollah militants were 500 meters (yards) away shielding themselves near UN workers and civilians," UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said. "That's why it is so inexplicable that what happened happened." IDF officials had told the United Nations that the bombing around the base was part of an "an aerial preparation for a ground operation," said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Officials in the outpost called the IDF 10 times during those six hours, and each time an army official promised to have the bombing stopped, according to a preliminary UN report on the incident. Once it became clear those pleas were being ignored, the force's commander sought the involvement of top officials in New York, a senior UN official in New York said. UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown and Lute herself then made several calls to Israel's UN mission "reiterating these protests and calling for an abatement of the shelling," Lute said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed "deep regret" for the deaths and dismay over UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's accusation that the attack was "apparently deliberate." Olmert told Annan in a phone call Wednesday that the attack was inadvertent and he promised a "thorough investigation," his office said in a statement. "It's inconceivable for the UN to define an error as an apparently deliberate action," Olmert said. China called for an Israeli apology and asked the UN Security Council to condemn the bombing - which killed one of its citizens - and demand the IDF stop attacking UN positions and personnel. "For China and for others, we condemn this because I think any attack on the United Nations positions and the United Nations personnel is inexcusable and unacceptable," China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya said. Austria and Finland, both of which also lost citizens in the attack, condemned the bombing, with Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja calling it "truly tragic." The fourth victim was Canadian. "These so-called precision attacks seem to be mainly targeting everyone else except the Hezbollah," Tuomioja said. "The longer this continues, the more likely it is that there will be more similar victims." White House spokesman Tony Snow described the strike as a "horrible thing," but said Israel was behaving responsibly in its aftermath. "They'll be completely transparent in the way they conduct the investigation," Snow said. "And I think that's the appropriate way to proceed." UN officials said the observation position was well marked. A picture the world body released Wednesday showed the three-story building was painted white with the letters "UN" emblazoned in large black letters on all sides, and a light blue UN flag hung from a nearby flagpole that was roughly 50 feet high. Witnesses said the building, which was surrounded by concrete blast walls and barbed wire, also had the letters UN painted on the roof and it was illuminated by floodlights at night.