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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Canadian Report Finds Israel Responsible for Peacekeeper's Death

Last month Canada "apologized" over including Israel on it's list of country's who use torture.

Are they going to apologize for THIS too?

Inquiry Fingers Israel for Peacekeeper's Death

By Lee Berthiaume
While a military board of inquiry investigation into the "tragic and preventable" death of a Canadian peacekeeper in July 2006 was limited by Israel's lack of co-operation, it has found the Israeli Defence Force was clearly to blame.

But Israel's ambassador to Canada defended his country's refusal to allow the board free access to information and witnesses related to the Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener's death.

"Both the UN and the Israelis supplied the Canadians with their reports," Alan Baker said Monday, "so as far as we're concerned, this was thoroughly investigated and no independent additional investigation by Canada or Finland or whoever would have turned up anything more than was already ascertained by the report."

Last Friday, the Canadian military released the results of its investigation into Maj. Hess-von Kruedener's death. The 66-page report, censored in some parts, comes 16 months after the board of inquiry ended its study.

When Israel launched a war against Hezbollah forces in Lebanon in July 2006, Maj. Hess-von Kruedener was working with three other peacekeepers at a United Nations observation post located about 10 km from where the Lebanese, Israeli and Syrian borders meet.

The post, which had been built in the late 1970s, came under fire numerous times over the following weeks. In the past, UN protests to Israeli forces that their fire was close to or hitting UN posts had stopped further fire.

On July 25, 2006, the post was hit with three "waves" of artillery and aerial bombs, according to the Canadian board of inquiry (BOI) report. As in previous instances, UN commanders on the ground contacted Israeli forces to warn them they were putting peacekeeper's lives at risk, and a plan to evacuate the patrol base was drawn up for the next day.

But sometime between 7:17 p.m. and 7:25 p.m., a 500-kg bomb was dropped on the post by an Israeli aircraft, destroying the structure and killing the four men inside.

The BOI report said it was unable to determine why the Israeli Defence Force continued to bomb the post after the UN protests.

"While the IDF has acknowledged receipt of the protests from the UN, it has failed to explain why the attack was not halted," reads the report.

"Unfortunately, due to the lack of access to IDF personnel and the limited information contained in the IDF Non-Paper, the Board was unable to ascertain why the IDF side of the liaison network could not deliver the necessary action in this particular case."

Then-UN secretary-general Kofi Annan alleged immediately afterward that the post was intentionally targeted, with those allegations echoed by Maj. Hess-von Kruedener's widow.

An Israeli investigation into the incident found that inaccurate maps caused the confusion. The veracity of this finding has been questioned given that the post had been in the same place for decades and was clearly marked.

The UN, which launched its own review, criticized Israel for refusing to co-operate, but appeared to accept the finding.

Inquiry Unhindered by Lack of Access

While the Department of National Defence board conducted interviews with Canadian Forces' personnel, it was only given an Israeli Non-Paper, summarizing the results of its own investigation while the UN reluctantly provided a copy of its own board of inquiry report.

The Canadian report said not having full access to Israeli and UN personnel and information was not considered a major impediment to its investigation.

"However, the Board did pose questions of clarification [to the Israeli Defence Force], but at the time of publishing this report, a response had not been received," the Canadian report reads.

In addition, the report repeatedly states that its investigation was "limited" because it did not have all the information.

It does note, however, that the post was close to a village, "and the attacks of that day were preparatory fires for an intended ground incursion within that vicinity."

The board said that Maj. Hess-von Kruedener was reporting on ceasefire violations, as was his job, at the time he was killed. The major, who was posthumously awarded a Meritorious Service Cross for his service during the war, was cleared of any blame.

The board also said the UN was not to blame for the peacekeepers' deaths. Days after Maj. Hess-von Kruedener was killed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had publicly questioned the UN keeping the men in the war zone.

"There is no evidence to suggest that, at any point leading up to or at the time of the incident, unnecessary risks were taken [by the UN]," the report reads.

Rather, the IDF was solely responsible for Maj. Hess-von Kruedener's death, the report said.

"While the Board was unable to assign blame to any one individual, blame was attributed to the IDF as an institution," the report reads. "Regarding the notion of preventability, the Board considered that the incident was preventable should an alternative course of action been followed on the part of the IDF."

Israel Regrets Mistake: Envoy

In an interview on Monday, Israeli Ambassador Alan Baker said the IDF did co-operate with Canadian investigators.

"There was co-operation. I don't know exactly the extent," he said. "I know the IDF gave the Canadians a very full inquiry that was carried out by the IDF and there was also some element of co-operation."

Mr. Baker said he was unaware of any requests through the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade or at the political level for more information.

"There were contacts to facilitate access and one thing or another," he said, "but the actual substantive questions that were involved were directed between the military authorities."

Mr. Baker said Israel had been extremely candid and thorough in its own investigation, and that given the ongoing fighting and instability in the area where Maj. Hess-von Kruedener was killed, further assistance was impossible.

"What really happened was covered by the Israeli inquiry where Israel gave very great detail as to the circumstances that brought about the tragic event," he said, "and Israel expressed its regret and acknowledged the fact that a mistake had been made. So I think all the relevant information was provided to the Canadians and the conclusions say that."


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