December 3, 2000
Source: Kidnappers of IDF soldiers likely wore UN uniforms
Hizbullah gunmen who seized three IDF soldiers at the Lebanese border in October were probably disguised as United Nations peacekeepers and had UN equipment, an Israeli security source said on Friday.
He said he could confirm many details of an article published on Friday by Yediot Aharonot, which cited an army report on the incident submitted to Chief General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz.
A spokesman for UNIFIL earlier said the newspaper report was incorrect, but said pieces of UNIFIL uniforms and UN insignia arm bands, and license plates were found in two abandoned vehicles used in the abduction.
"We guess they used the following equipment - uniforms, weapons, vehicles, radios, flags, and some other equipment," the security source told a news briefing.
He did not accuse the UN force of deliberately helping the gunmen, but said it may unwittingly have been a factor because of the use of its equipment and clothes.
Asked to explain his claims about Hizbullah's use of UN equipment, the security source said: "I prefer to use the word 'guess' but I can base my guess on good evidence."
In New York, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard, in answer to questions of any UNIFIL involvement, said the emblems, patches, and license plates, "were either stolen or bought on the market. I don't see how you make a connection between that and any responsibility on our part for the incident which we condemned at the time. I categorically deny that UNIFIL knew what was going on while it as going on."
The Israeli security source said that the three Israelis had been captured about 300 meters from a UNIFIL contingent and that nothing had been done to prevent the incident or to issue a report on it.
Nothing has been heard of the three soldiers since their capture, as issue raised again with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this week by visiting Justice Minister Yossi Beilin.
The source said Israel had informed UNIFIL about most of what it knew of the incident.
UNIFIL spokesmen Timur Goksel, reacting earlier to the newspaper report, denied this.
"This is the first time I have heard that the Israeli army has discovered such a thing," Goksel said. He noted that pictures released by Hizbullah of the operation showed a black jeep and gunmen clad in jeans.
Goksel said UNIFIL troops had found parts of UNIFIL uniforms, UN insignia, arm bands and UN license plates in two abandoned vehicles- a black jeep and a white Nissan - parked several kilometers from the scene.
He said the he believed the black jeep was used in the capture and the white vehicle was a back-up car, and that Hizbullah gunmen had not used UN equipment during the snatch. (News agencies)