Wednesday, July 26, 2006

One Finn killed by Israeli strike on UN post

A Finnish UNIFIL observer was killed along with three colleagues, from Austria, China and Canada,when their observation post was bombed last night. I will check with this blog's former co-writer Charly, who is currently up to his eyes writing a history of Finnish peacekeeping, but I can't remember another Finn being killed in recent years on a UN mission. Other UNIFIL troops who attempted to rescue them were subsequently shelled. Israel's UN Ambassador has expressed Israel's "deep regret" over the matter but strongly denied Kofi Annan's suggestion that the attack was deliberate. The background to Annan's very strong claim seems to be that the UN had reminded the IDF of the post's already well known position only yesterday - BBC Radio 4 is reporting that shells had been falling near the post all yesterday forcing the observers into a bunker. The French general commanding UNIFIL had called the Israelis asking them to desist, but later the bunker was hit by one heavy bomb that destroyed the bunker.

The UN was criticised earlier during this crisis for turning away civilian refugees from their camps and bases in Southern Lebanon. The UN's justification for this is they did not want to risk another incident leading to mass civilian deaths such as happended at Qana in south Lebanon in 1996 during "Operation Grapes of Wrath". A UN base that was sheltering hundreds of Lebanese civilians was hit by artillery fire that resulted in 106 deaths and more than that injured, including UN forces. Hezbollah had been firing rockets from areas close to the camp. The return fire hit the camp and not the Hezbollah fighters. The debate over Qana continues to rumble on (see the Wiki talk page as an example, both semantics and facts are disputed) but whatever happened - the attack yesterday shows that the UN made the right decision in this crisis.

Update: The Finnish reaction from the President and Foreign Minister (who was in Rome representing the EU at the Lebanon crisis meeting) can be read in English here and here.

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