Following a deadly attack on a United Nations outpost in Lebanon on Tuesday night, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has demanded that Israel probe the "apparently deliberate targeting" of the peacekeeper's station in the village of Khiam. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he had told Annan of his "deep sorrow" at the killing of the observers, but voiced shock at Annan's suggestion the attack was deliberate.
"The prime minister said he would never fathom the thought that the mistake that was made would be categorized by the UN as an action that was done intentionally," said a statement from Olmert's office. Olmert said he would order an investigation.
China condemned the air raid, in which a Chinese national was killed. Its official Xinhua news agency said the other three observers were from Finland, Austria and Canada.
As reports of the attack emerged on Tuesday, Annan rushed out of a hotel in Rome following a dinner with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. He later said in a statement: "I am shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli Defence Forces of a UN observer post in southern Lebanon.
Annan said the post had been there for a long time, was marked clearly, and was hit despite assurances from Olmert that UN positions would not be attacked. I call on the government of Israel to conduct a full investigation into this very disturbing incident and demand that any further attack on UN positions and personnel must stop, he said.
Israels UN ambassador Dan Gillerman described Annans comments as premature and erroneous.
Lebanon and its Arab allies will plead at Wednesday's talks in Rome for an immediate truce, but Washington says a lasting solution needs to be agreed first. Israel has said it will press on with its offensive. It also said it plans to set up a "security strip" in Lebanon until international forces deploy. Israel and Syria, Hezbollah's main ally along with Iran, have not been invited to the Rome conference.
Hezbollah, which ignited the war by capturing two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 raid, wants a truce to be followed by talks on swapping the two Israelis for Arab and Lebanese prisoners in Israel. The United States demands Hezbollah free the soldiers unconditionally and pull back from the border before disarming.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah rejected US truce terms and pledged in a taped speech on television to take the war deeper into Israel: "We cannot accept any condition humiliating to our country, our people or our resistance," he said "Yes, the limit of our bombardment will not remain Haifa, regardless of the enemy's response. We will move to the phase of 'beyond Haifa'."
The Rome meeting will also seek agreement on what kind of international force could be sent into southern Lebanon. Media reports say Israel wants a possible international force to consist of between 10,000 and 20,000 foreign soldiers to secure the area. CNN reported that Rice had said during her visit to Beirut this week that up to 30,000 soldiers should be deployed.
Citing Lebanese security sources, CNN also reported that Rice suggested more than 10,000 Turkish and Egyptian soldiers be used and be placed under NATO or UN command after a cease-fire. In a second phase, the contingent would be expanded to 30,000. Rice had discussed the plan with the Israeli government but it was not clear whether Egypt and Turkey had agreed, the report said.
Meanwhile Germany continues to agonize about whether it should send troops as part of such a force.The general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Stephan Kramer, told German radio: "There are many Shoah survivors still alive in Israel, fortunately. And I don't know what they would think if German troops had to take action against an Israeli soldier defending his country." Germany's history made it problematic to send German troops to the region, he said.