U.S. Blocks UN Statement Condemning Israel for Strike on Observer's Post

Security Council members reach impasse over statement's content; Canada PM: UN post not deliberately targeted by IDF

The United States blocked on Wednesday the U.N. Security Council from issuing a statement that would have condemned Israel's bombing of a UN post on the Lebanon border that killed four military observers.

U.S. diplomats refused to comment and U.S. Ambassador John Bolton was in Washington preparing for a new confirmation hearing before the Senate. But several diplomats said the United States objected to one paragraph, which said the council "condemns any deliberate attack against UN personnel and emphasizes that such attacks are unacceptable."

Earlier Wednesday, Bolton had said that the thrust of a council statement should be to express regret, send condolences and support an investigation to find out exactly what happened - not "to make it a back door to get into other political and military questions."

After several hours of negotiations that ran late into the evening, the council gave up on a statement addressing the Tuesday bombing of the UN post and agreed to come back on Thursday.

As a last-ditch bid, China, which had sponsored the draft because a Chinese national was one of the four killed, proposed dropping the language entirely. But Qatari diplomats refused because they could not reach anyone back home to get permission to do so, the diplomats said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to speak on behalf of those nations.

Canadian PM does not believe UN post deliberately targeted by IDF Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday he doubts Israel's deadly attack on a UN observation post in Lebanon, which killed a Canadian observer, was deliberate.

Harper, speaking to reporters in eastern New Brunswick, said the Canadian military would consult with the United Nations and Israeli government to determine what happened.

Harper also said he wants to know why the post was still manned by UN observers even though it was in the middle of an obvious war zone.

Though Annan has suggested Israel targeted the outpost, Harper believes otherwise.

"I certainly doubt that to be the case, given that the government of Israel has been cooperating with us in our evacuation efforts, in our efforts to move Canadian citizens out of Lebanon and also trying to keep our own troops that are on the ground involved in the evacuation out of harm's way," he said.

"We want to find out why this United Nations post was attacked and also why it remained manned during what is now, more or less, a war during obvious danger to these individuals," Harper said.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday that he has instructed the military to carry out a thorough investigation into an Israel Air Force strike on a UN base in southern Lebanon, in which four peacekeepers were killed.

He told Annan that the results would be shared with him.

Peacekeepers had called the Israel Defense Forces 10 times in a six-hour period to ask it to halt its nearby bombing before their observation post was hit, killing four people, according to details of a preliminary UN report on the incident released to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

During each phone call, an Israeli official promised to halt the bombing, according to a UN official who had seen the preliminary report.

The peacekeepers at the post said the area within a kilometer of the post was hit with precision munitions, including 17 bombs and 12 artillery shells, four of which directly hit the post Tuesday, the report said.

The IDF said it regrets the deaths of the UN personnel and said all offensive operations in Lebanon are directed at Hezbollah.

The IDF also said that Hezbollah gunners were firing at Israel from the concerned area and the IDF thus decided to operate there. Nevertheless, the IDF said it would conduct a compehensive investigation into the incident in full cooperation with the UN.

Israel said Wednesday that it regrets the "tragic" deaths of the observers and will thoroughly investigate the circumstances that led to their deaths.

"Israel sincerely regrets the tragic deaths of the UN personnel in south Lebanon," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

Annan had earlier called for an inquiry into what he called Israel's "apparently deliberate targeting" of the UN observer force.

Olmert expressed dismay over Annan's comments. "It's inconceivable for the UN to define an error as an apparently deliberate action," the statement said.

Dan Ayalon, Israel's Ambassador to Washington, demanded that Annan apologize for the remarks, which he called "baseless."

Olmert said he had spoken to Annan to express "deep sorrow" over the deaths.

The victims included observers from Austria, Canada, China and Finland, UN and Lebanese military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to the media.

The four observers were killed after a bomb directly struck the building and shelter of an Indian patrol base from an observer force in the town of Khiyam near the eastern end of the border with Israel, said Milos Struger, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.

"There are casualties among the observers. UNIFIL immediately dispatched a rescue and medical team and they're currently on the location but unable to clear the rubble," Struger said.

At UN headquarters in New York, Annan said he was "trying to get the details" of the attack.

Annan said there were 14 other incidents of Israeli gunfire directed at the targeted area Tuesday afternoon. "The firing continued even during the rescue operation," he said.

Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman expressed his "deep regret" for the deaths and denied Israel hit the post intentionally.

Gillerman said he was "shocked and deeply distressed by the hasty statement of the secretary-general, insinuating that Israel has deliberately targeted the UN post," calling the assertions "premature and erroneous."

He said Olmert's assurances to the secretary-general are "a clear indication" of Israel's commitment to ensure the safety and security of UN personnel.

Gillerman said "Israel is carrying out a thorough inquiry into this tragic incident and will inform the UN of its results as soon as possible."

The UN Security Council was expected to receive a briefing on the bombing on Wednesday.

Ireland's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that an Irish army officer in south Lebanon warned the IDF six times that their attacks in the area were putting the lives of UN observers at risk.

"On six separate occasions he was in contact with the Israelis to warn them that their bombardment was endangering the lives of UN staff in South Lebanon," a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.

"He warned: 'You have to address this problem or lives may be lost'," the spokesman said of comments by a senior Irish soldier working as a liaison officer between UN forces in South Lebanon and the Israelis.