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WARFARE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Post Hit Repeatedly as Troops Sought Aid, U.N. Says of Incident

July 27, 2006|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations post where four peacekeepers were killed by Israeli fire Tuesday was hit at least 16 times over six hours, including five direct hits on the base as its unarmed staff repeatedly notified Israeli liaison officers and begged for help, U.N. officials said Wednesday.

On Tuesday U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the airstrike that hit the post in southern Lebanon was "apparently deliberate."

On Wednesday in Rome for an international conference on the fighting in Lebanon, he told reporters that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had called him to express his "deep sorrow" at what happened and to promise an investigation. Annan said he suggested it be a joint inquiry.

In Jerusalem, Olmert confirmed that the bombardment was under investigation, but said Annan's accusation that it was deliberate was "inconceivable."

The U.N. post was "longestablished and clearly marked," Annan said Wednesday.

U.N. officials who briefed reporters here said the attack began about 1:20 p.m. Radio contact with the post was lost about 7:30 p.m. During those hours, U.N. officials made at least half a dozen calls to top officials at the Israeli mission to the U.N. to seek an end to the attack, a senior U.N. official said. Additional calls were made to the Israeli military by U.N. generals on the ground demanding that the Israelis hold their fire.

The calls went unheeded and the fire continued even when a U.N. rescue mission was underway after a direct hit on the observer post, the official said.

The nearest known Hezbollah activity was more than three miles away, although in the past there have been Hezbollah weapons caches in the area, a senior U.N. official said. The U.N. is still trying to determine if the hits were from aerial bombardment or artillery.

According to information compiled so far by the U.N., the base, which is one of four in southern Lebanon, had received fire several times in the last few days before the barrage that killed the observers, who were a Canadian, a Finn, an Austrian and a Chinese.

"They were unarmed observers in the service of peace," Annan said.

*

Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in Rome contributed to this report.

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