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Copyright 2001 Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

August 5, 2001

HEADLINE: UN Report: We Mishandled Hizbullah Video

BYLINE: Melissa Radler

NEW YORK-The three IDF soldiers abducted by Hizbullah last October 7 near the Lebanon border were badly wounded and may be dead, the united nations said Friday in a report on how it mishandled information about the kidnapping.

Blaming ''inadequate internal communications and poor judgment on the part of several senior officers who thought they were doing to the right thing,'' the UN released an 18-page report on what happened to a videotape filmed by a UNIFIL soldier 18 hours after the kidnapping.

Among the report's findings are the existence of two additional videotapes and a senior UNIFIL officer's assessment that the kidnapped soldiers - St.-Sgt. Binyamin Avraham and Omar Suwayed and Sgt. Adi Avitan may have died from their wounds. In addition, more than 50 items, including seven with bloodstains, were found in getaway cars used by Hizbullah and are now in the UN's possession.

After the report's findings were made public, Israel Ambassador to the UN Yehuda Lancry announced that Israel had accepted the UN's offer to view an edited version of the video, in which the faces of Hizbullah terrorists who may have been involved in the kidnapping are obscured. Lancry also announced that a three-person IDF technical team will be sent to New York this week to examine the video and the seven bloodstained items.

Any testing of the bloodstains is to be conducted by the world Health Organization, announced UN spokesman Fred Eckhard on Friday.

An internal UN investigation into the handling of the videotape and the UN's exchanges with Israel was ordered by secretary general Kofi Annan in early July, following revelations that UNIFIL had hidden the existence of the tape from Israel and senior UN officials for months. The investigation was conducted by Undersecretary-General Joseph Connor, who briefed the security Council in closed consultations on Friday, followed by a press briefing to reporters.

Emphasizing that the investigation revealed "no indication of collusion with Hizbullah and any component of UNIFIL," Connor's eight-person investigation team concluded that in denying the existence of the videotape, senior UNIFIL officers displayed "lapses in judgment and failures in communication."

The report noted that the UN "did not deliberately mislead the Israeli government." According to a timeline reconstructed by the investigation team, UNIFIL officers found Hizbullah's getaway cars seven hours after the abduction of the three soldiers, seven kilometers from the site of the kidnapping. UNIFIL officers found and catalogued 53 items in the cars, including fake UN flags, stickers and UNIFIL license plates, and Deputy Force Commander-General Ganesan Athmanathan determined that the amount of blood in the vehicles indicated that the occupants "may have been badly injured and may succumb to their injuries." Athmanathan's assessment was not communicated to senior UN or Israeli officials.

On October 8, an Indian UNIFIL officer filmed the vehicles' recovery under the order of Athmanathan. During the recovery, armed Hizbullah terrorists detained the convoy and demanded the vehicles at gun-point, and then-UNIFIL Force Commander Seth Kofi Obeng ordered the vehicles turned over to Hizbullah "to avoid confrontation and because they were not United Nations property," noted Connor in his report. The videotape was not mentioned in any written communication by UNIFIL to UN headquarters in New York until July 9, 2001.

Additional videos discovered in the course of the investigation include an October 7 taping of Hizbullah's artillery bombardment of IDF positions filmed by an unknown person, which the UN has offered to show to Israel and Lebanon.

Connor noted that the existence of that video was not reported to UN headquarters until July 16.

A third video clip that "purports to show still photographs of Hizbullah fighters during the abduction itself" was shown on Lebanese TV on July 15, the report stated. The report also notes that a "civilian, whose identity is unknown, was filming on 8 October at the site of the recovery of the vehicles."

Slamming certain officials for "serious errors in judgment," Annan released a statement saying that he "regrets" the actions of "those who failed to convey information to the Israelis which could have been helpful in an assessment of the condition of the three abducted soldiers."

Indicating that disciplinary action may be taken against officials who denied the existence of the video, Connor said, "You can expect there'd be some action taken on the personnel level."

Praising the UN for its investigation, Lancry nonetheless criticized the UN's insistence that showing the original version of the video to Israel would constitute taking sides in Israel conflict with Hizbullah. "We are talking about a member state on one side and a terror organization on the other," said Lancry.

The report also reinforces Israel's opposition to sending an international force to the region in the current conflict with the Palestinians, said Lancry, noting that the UNIFIL force was unable to "deal even with a small group of Hizbullah terrorists. What would be the reaction of an observer force in the West Bank - will they be scared of by Sheikh Yassin?" he asked.

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