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Copyright 2001 Ha'aretz

July 8, 2001

Israel demands unedited UN tape

BYLINE: Shlomo Shamir, Jalal Bana and Amos Harel
Ha'aretz Correspondents and Agencies

Israel is rejecting the terms and conditions that the United Nations has attached to the viewing of a videotape recorded by UNIFIL soldiers in the area of Har Dov where three IDF soldiers were abducted by the Hezbollah last October. Nonetheless, intensive diplomatic contacts are going on in an effort to resolve the issue.

Adding further to the growing imbroglio, the IDF expressed doubt regarding the identity of the persons seen on a photograph, shown on Friday on Channel Two. Lebanese sources claim that the two young men, lying in hospital in Beirut, are two of the kidnapped IDF soldiers.

For their part, the families of the abducted soldiers have been deeply shaken by the most recent photograph. The sister of Omar Suwad, claims to have identified her brother in the hospital photo.

Addressing reporters on Friday, United Nations Undersecretary-General Jean Marie Guehenno acknowledged that the UN was in possession of a videotape, following months of denials by the international organization that such a tape existed. However, the senior UN official insists that the video was not taken at the abduction scene.

Guehenno, who is in charge of UN peacekeeping missions, said that the organization would allow Israeli officials to view a videotape of vehicles believed to have been used in the abduction of three Israeli soldiers - but the faces of the possible kidnappers will be obscured.

Guehenno said the months of denial by UN officials were free from guile and stemmed from them being unaware of its existence. He said that the tape was brought to the UN headquarters in mid-May and he was told about it on June 7.

He added that "those who did know about the tape believed it did not provide any useful information," an assessment with which he was in agreement.

Guehenno explained that the decision to release the tape for the viewing of Lebanese and Israeli officials stemmed from humanitarian reasons.

"The 30-minute tape, filmed by UN peacekeepers from India 18 hours after the kidnappings, contains images of blood stains, UN uniforms and forged license plates on the vehicles allegedly used by Hezbollah during the abductions," he said.

Lebanon warns against tape's release

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's office issued a statement yesterday saying that showing the tape would be "a dangerous precedent" and a deviation from the UN peacekeeping force's mission in south Lebanon.

The statement added that Lebanese authorities had rejected a UN offer to view the tape because this would mean the "relaying information from inside Lebanese territory to the Israeli enemy, something that constitutes a deviation from the UN peacekeeping force's mission in the south (of Lebanon)."

In a statement yesterday, the Hezbollah said that showing the tape would question "the nature of United Nations missions and its role in south Lebanon with regard to relaying information" to Israel.

Israel's mission to the UN rejected Guehenno's assessment that the video contains no useful material regarding the kidnapping, and insisted that the tape should be released to Israel unedited.

"Guehenno's view reflects the UN's point of view regarding the importance of the tape," a senior Israeli delegate at the UN said. "Israel has the means and equipment to analyze and evaluate in greater detail the content of the tape. From our point of view, the content of the tape may shed new light on the circumstances of the abduction."

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Yehuda Lankry, was more diplomatic about the developments, calling the organization's decision to release the tape for viewing by Lebanese and Israeli officials "a step in the right direction."

He also described undersecretary Guehenno as "a reliable and honest man," adding that "I tend to believe his claim that neither he nor the Secretary General were aware of the tape's existence."

Guehenno acknowledged that the tape includes evidence that the Hezbollah guerrillas masqueraded as UNIFIL peacekeepers, and showed Lebanese who "seem to belong to the Hezbollah."

Guehenno said that these people came to the area where the vehicles were abandoned while the UNIFIL soldiers were trying to tow them away, and forcibly took them and their contents away.

"The faces of those persons in the video will be obscured," Guehenno said, because there is no way of conclusively knowing whether they were involved in the kidnapping. "Showing their faces could endanger the security of our people in Lebanon," he said.

Israel sent investigators to India to question soldiers who returned home after the kidnapping. One Israeli army officer said on condition of anonymity that Israel was looking into whether UN peacekeepers played a role in the abduction, but Guehenno said there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that.

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