United States backs Israeli demands for tape of possible kidnappers
UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United States is backing Israeli demands for the United Nations to turn over a videotape that shows the possible kidnappers of three Israeli soldiers.
U.S. deputy ambassador Cameron Hume told the Security Council on Tuesday the tape, filmed by U.N. peacekeepers serving in south Lebanon, should be made public. It was the first time the United States had made public its position on the dispute between Israel and the United Nations.
The United Nations has refused to give Israel the tape, maintaining that would compromise U.N. neutrality in southern Lebanon and could jeopardize the security of its peacekeepers.
Instead, the United Nations has offered Israel and Lebanon a look at an edited version of the tape – made by peacekeepers 18 hours after the Oct. 7 kidnappings on the Lebanese-Israeli border – that obscures the faces of possible suspects.
U.N. officials said privately that the soldiers’ families would be welcome to view the tape.
Israel has rejected the offer, insisting on a copy of the complete videotape. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday and reiterated demands for the tape.
The Lebanese government does not want Israel to have the tape and Hezbollah issued a veiled threat Monday, saying the guerrilla group would consider peacekeepers ”spies,” if Israel even sees the tape.
Hume told The Associated Press he understood the concerns voiced by the United Nations.
But, he said, ”We believe that under the circumstances, it’s best that the tape be made public. We asked for the tape to be released.”
Israeli officials disclosed last week that despite months of denials, the United Nations had a tape of Hezbollah guerillas hauling away vehicles probably used in the kidnapping. The United Nations acknowledged Friday that it had misled Israel about the tape.
The 30-minute video contains images of blood stains, U.N. uniforms and forged license plates on the vehicles allegedly used by Hezbollah during the abductions. It also shows the faces of Hezbollah guerrillas who took the vehicles and their contents away from U.N. peacekeepers while they were trying to salvage the items as evidence.
The Security Council did not take any action on the matter, but members criticized the peacekeeping department’s handling of the situation.
U.N. officials acknowledge the tape indicates the kidnappers probably masqueraded as U.N. peacekeepers when they nabbed the soldiers about 400 yards from a U.N. post manned by a contingent from India. The abandoned cars in the video were found several miles away.
Three days after the kidnappings, Annan said he believed the soldiers were alive and in good condition. But since then, Hezbollah has refused to release information on their fate and said Monday it would only do so in exchange for the release of Lebanese prisoners being held by Israel.
Israel ended an 18-year military presence in south Lebanon in May 2000.
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