An investigative report about Qana

LONDON, May 2 (UPI) -- A U.N. investigation has concluded that an agency peace force base shelled during Israel's offensive in southern Lebanon, killing more than 100 civilian refugees, was targeted by Israeli artillery, not hit by accident, a British defense analysis service said Thursday.

A report on the investigation in the Jane's Information Group newsletter Foreign Report said the inquiry found, after independent examination of the ordnance and circumstances, ``that the U.N. base was targeted by the Israelis.''

The inquiry on the central question in the shelling was ordered by U. N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and conducted by Lt. Col. Frank von Kappen, his Dutch military adviser. It began the day after the April 18 shelling, and von Kappen visited Lebanon and Jerusalem.

The inquiry's key finding contradicted Israeli reports, repeated in statements by U.S. officials, that gunners in the 155mm artillery crew had accidentally missed a Hezbollah guerrilla target by more than 330 yards.

``The U.N. team had discovered 25 artillery rounds,'' the report said, ``at least seven of them with 'proximity fuses.' These shells explode about 7 meters (23 feet) above ground in order to kill and maim the maximum number of people.''

Israel's U.S.-made M109A1 self-propelled howitzers have a maximum range of about 11 miles (18 km) and were firing at a rocket position of the Iran-backed Hezbollah that was about 9 miles (15 km) away. Gunners had standing orders not to fire within a safety ring around known U.N. sites, such as Qana.

``Von Kappen reported that he was told by Israeli generals...that no unmanned reconnaissance 'drone' aircraft were in the area at the time,'' according to the report.

But the U.N. military adviser did not tell the Israelis, the report said, that a U.N. peacekeeper at a base overlooking Qana had shot videotape showing the ``shells landing and an unmanned light aircraft... flying overhead'' -- an Israeli reconnaissance drone.

A Western artillery officer told the publication that what he saw in the video ``was not rescue fire, which in wartime simply pours down without warning. That was specific, patterned, spaced firing that took 15 minutes to prepare.''

The Israelis said after the shelling that the guerrillas had detected and were firing at an Israeli commando unit when the artillery tried to cover its withdrawal with the shelling. The army acknowledged a targeting pause of 15 minutes between the start of the Hezbollah fire and the barrage.

The first rounds hit a cemetery where Hezbollah, or Party of God, was dug in, then two rounds missed the target and hit the base full of refugees, the Israelis said.

But the U.N. report said the artillery hit the cemetery long after the guerrillas had fled, then the Israelis switched their targeting to the base, which was hit by at least six rounds. More than 150 people were wounded when the M732 radar fuses blasted sharp fragments down from the midair rounds.

The Foreign Report account also said: ``Israel's prime minister, Shimon Peres, said the army did not know of the presence of civilians at the U.N. base. However. Maj. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, chief of military intelligence, said his men had known about the civilian refugees in the U.N. camp, and had informed the Northern Command, which was conducting the operation, about them.''

Israeli officials in Jerusalem were not immediately available for comment.

In Washington, the State Department rebutted the report, saying ``that's not our understanding of what occurred'' and defended Israel's right to respond to such attacks in whatever way it deemed appropriate. The United States believes Israel's account, spokesman Glyn Davies said, which claims an errant shell hit the U.N. base rather than a nearby Hezbollah rocket emplacement.

``Israeli officials say it was a mistake, and we have no reason to believe the Israelis are not telling the truth,'' he said. ``It was certainly not a mistake for Israel to defend itself.''

In New York, U.N. spokeswoman Sylvana Foa said the report by von Kappen was inconclusive.

``No one has got a finished report,'' she said. ``I don't think they have a conclusive report yet because the little pieces of puzzle are being put together.''

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution last week condemning Israel for its 16-day offensive, in which more than 170 people were killed, almost all of them civilians and none of them Israelis.

The measure did not mention the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is among several Lebanon-based hard-line groups that oppose the Middle East peace process and seek to force Israel to withdraw from occupied territories.

Their chief target is Israel's 9-mile-wide (15-km) self-proclaimed security zone set up inside southern Lebanon in 1985 to protect northern Israel from guerrilla attacks.