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Copyright 2001 The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post

July 6, 2001

Israel demands UN video of kidnapping site

BYLINE: By Arieh O'Sullivan, Gil Hoffman, and David Rudge

IDF thinks footage could shed light on capture of soldiers

JERUSALEM (July 6) - A videotape shot by a UNIFIL officer at the site of the October 7 kidnapping of three IDF soldiers should be handed over to Israel, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said yesterday, condemning the UN for prevaricating on the issue.

It is hoped the footage could aid efforts to secure the safe return of St.-Sgts. Binyamin Avraham and Omar Sawayid and Sgt. Adi Avitan, kidnapped by Hizbullah as they patrolled on Mount Dov. Parts of the footage were shown on Channel 2 last night.

There is increased concern as to the Israeli captives' fate, after Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday that dissatisfaction with the state of negotiations for their release would necessitate "an unusual and exceptional decision." Nasrallah said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would hear of this decision while in Germany yesterday.

The video was shot 18 hours after the kidnapping, at 6:30 a.m., according to UNIFIL spokesman Timur Goksel. It shows a black Range Rover and a white car, with bogus UN markings apparently used to lure the solders to the border fence. "The videotape recorded the vehicles used by Hizbullah, and could shed light on the incident," a Defense Ministry statement said.

UN sources, however, insisted that virtually all of these details were already known to Israel, and that the video has no information of investigative value.

UNIFIL, which had a position just uphill from the ambush site, had located the vehicles much earlier.

"Explosive devices were found in one of the vehicles by UNIFIL troops when they approached them some time after the actual incident, and the engine of one vehicle was still running," said Goksel. "The troops, in accordance with regulations, did not touch anything in view of the explosives, and since darkness was setting in they waited until sappers cleared the vehicles the following morning. It was at this point that the video film was taken."

Defense officials said they have known of the videotape for months, but the UN has often denied having it. It was only recently that UN announced it had found tape at its headquarters, the Defense Ministry said.

Speaking to reporters following the Labor Central Committee meeting yesterday, Ben-Eliezer accused the UN of "bald-faced lying" to Israel. "Since the kidnapping we have claimed all the time that there is a videotape in the hands of a UN peacekeeper. We asked for it many times. Unfortunately they said no, and no, and no," he said.

Ben-Eliezer said a UN official telephoned him last Friday to apologize and inform Israel that the videotape had been found. That prompted him to write to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, demanding that the original tape be handed over immediately, as well as any and all related information.

"It is very grave that an organization like the United Nations insisted that it didn't exist, as if we were the ones lying. Finding out about the tape shows we were right all along," Ben-Eliezer said.

Shortly after issuing the letter, Ben-Eliezer instructed his office to notify the soldiers' families of the existence of the videotape.

The handover may be delayed, however, as the videotape is private property and, more importantly, because of the diplomatic and security ramifications.

UNIFIL is in Lebanon at the request of the Lebanese government. As Lebanon and Israel are technically at war, any move to make available to Israel information which could be construed as intelligence might place the international peacekeeping force in an extremely sensitive position vis-a-vis the Beirut.

In an interview Wednesday with the Lebanese daily A-Safir, Nasrallah said that Sharon has undone all progress made by his predecessor, Ehud Barak, in negotiations. "We were in talks with Barak, who agreed to hand over maps of the mines left behind in Lebanon and the bodies of our organization's fallen fighters.

"Barak agreed to release some of the Lebanese security prisoners [in Israel], but then we got all sorts of conditions from Israel, which refused to accept our insistence that we have no information on navigator Ron Arad. When Barak was in office we made good progress in the negotiations, and then along came Sharon and we were back to square one."

Nasrallah had also said that, during his visit to Germany yesterday, Sharon would receive word of Hizbullah's "decision" regarding the captives, via the German intermediaries who have been working for their release.

Sharon discussed the Israeli captives with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder yesterday, but declined to elaborate, telling reporters the issue is very sensitive.

Schroeder, whose government has been acting as a go-between in discussions between Israel and Hizbullah regarding the captives, promised to do all that he could to win their release.

Neither man would discuss reports that Hizbullah has made a fresh offer to trade for the captives.

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