Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Israel admits UN ambulance claims propaganda...

The Israeli Army has admitted it was wrong to accuse the United Nations of letting its ambulances be used by Palestinian freedom fighters to transport Qassam rockets in the Gaza Strip.

In a statement, the Army admitted it was not certain that the object placed in the back of a UN-marked ambulance in the northern Gaza Strip was a rocket, as it had previously insisted and said its accusations were "made in haste".

"After a thorough review of the material, the nature of the object loaded on the vehicle cannot be determined with certainty. Thus, the determination that the object loaded was a Qassam rocket was too unequivocal and made in haste," the statement said.

Commenting on its rapid widespread distribution of the grainy footage shot from an Israeli drone, the Army said, "lessons learned will be implemented to prevent a recurrence of such an incident in the future".

A diplomatic storm broke out between Israel and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) earlier this month after the army released grainy footage of what it said was Palestinian freedom fighters loading a Qassam rocket into a vehicle with a UN logo clearly marked on the roof.

After studying the pictures, UNRWA chief Peter Hansen said the pictures showed nothing more than paramedics throwing a folded portable stretcher into the vehicle.

Speaking to the parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee early on Tuesday, the army's official spokeswoman Ruth Yaron also admitted, in slightly clearer language, that the assessment had been wrong.

"It is obvious today, after all the inquiries made into the question, that it wasn't a Qassam rocket," the web site of Israeli daily Haaretz quoted her as telling the committee.

In the affair's wake, Israel immediately lodged a strongly worded protest with the United Nations.

Several days later, a UN team arrived in Israel to investigate the allegations, which sparked a furious war of words that culminated in Israeli demands for Mr Hansen's dismissal on the grounds that he "hates Israel".

Mr Hansen lashed out at Israel in a letter sent to Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, labelling the Israeli accusations as "malicious propaganda" that endangered the lives of UN staff in the Gaza Strip working under deadly conditions during an ongoing army raid into the area.

"It is appalling that, with the serious conflict now raging in the northern Gaza Strip, where UNRWA ambulances are operating in constant danger alongside those of other humanitarian agencies to try and save and transport scores of wounded Palestinians to hospital, the Government of Israel would put out such deliberately inciteful, false and malicious propaganda," Mr Hansen wrote.

Mr Hansen requested an immediate public retraction and apology from the Israeli Government.

But, after nearly a week of insisting the footage showed a militant rocket being loaded into the UN vehicle, Israeli officials last week acknowledged they might have been wrong and withdrew the clip from the official army web site.

GKCNN was unable to reach any UNRWA officials for comment on the public retraction of the allegations.

By End The Occupation 13 October 04


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