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British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel only expressed "regret".
Governments worldwide reacted with shock and issued angry demands for an explanation on Wednesday after an Israeli air strike killed four United Nations observers in southern Lebanon.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was in Rome for an international crisis conference seeking an end to bloodshed in Lebanon, suggested that the attack had been deliberate.
“I am shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently ‘deliberate’ targeting by Israeli ‘defence’ forces of a UN observer post in southern Lebanon,” Mr Annan said.
He described the strike as a ‘coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked UN post.’
Ministers attending the Rome talks observed a minute’s silence for the four UN observers.
Foreign ministers of China, Japan, South Korea and the 10-nation ASEAN said on Wednesday that the strike appeared to be deliberate.
Lebanese police said the four UN observers were killed late on Tuesday in the Israeli bombing of their two-storey post in the south Lebanon border town of Khiam.
Former comrades of the observers scrabbled through the rubble with bare hands and improvised shovels to remove three of the corpses because they could not get a bulldozer in, a Lebanese security source said. Israel ceased its bombardment during the recovery operation.
The dead were from Austria, Canada, China and Finland, a Lebanese security source said. The UN has not confirmed the nationalities but China said it had lost one observer.
Austria and Finland both said that they had troops at the base but were unable to confirm if they were among the dead. Canada was yet to comment.
The attack took place ‘despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would be spared Israeli fire,” Mr Annan said.
Mr Olmert telephoned Mr Annan and expressed ‘deep regrets’ over the killings, assuring him that he would order a comprehensive inquiry.
But the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, told the BBC that Mr Annan’s criticism was ‘premature.’
Beijing strongly condemned the attack and summoned Israel’s ambassador to demand an apology.
“China is deeply shocked and strongly condemns this,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. “China demands that all sides in the confrontation, especially Israel, take measures to ensure safety of UN peacekeepers.”
Finnish President Tarja Halonen demanded an investigation by Israel, saying: “Nothing can justify Israel’s attack on a UN observer base.”
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik told her Israeli counterpart Tsipi Livni by telephone of her ‘indignation’ at the incident, saying a strike on a UN post was ‘totally unacceptable.’
Israel’s ambassador to Vienna Dan Azhbel was summoned by Ms Plassnik for an ‘immediate clarification’ on what had happened.
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office said the incident was ‘deeply regrettable.’
“We send our condolences to the families of those killed and the UN as a whole,” a spokesman said.
The Finnish presidency of the European Union voiced ‘shock’ about the deaths and demanded an immediate inquiry.
In Brussels, the European Commission lamented the attack but was more measured in comments.
“I express our regret at this incident, this very tragic incident. But we cannot speculate until we know all the facts,” a commission spokesman said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office expressed ‘deep regret’ but applauded Israel’s swift reaction in ordering an enquiry.
“We expect Israel to respect and observe the special legal status and inviolability of the UN missions,” a Berlin spokesman said.
French President Jacques Chirac issued a condemnation.
“In hitting (UNIFIL), where French soldiers are also serving, it is the international community’s peacekeeping force which is hit. We can only condemn this action, which demonstrates more than ever the urgency of stopping the violence,” Mr Chirac told Le Monde newspaper.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallukh condemned the attack as barbaric and ‘premeditated’ aggression.
“This aggression shows once again that Israel makes no distinction between a woman, a child, a hospital or a UN post whose mission is to assure security and peace, violated by the Jewish state,” he said in a statement.
The minister said Israel ‘does not believe in the principles of the United Nations which works for peace and the solving of conflicts without resorting to violence.’—-AFP
Thursday, July 27, 2006
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