IDF admits `Qassam rocket' may have been a stretcher

Amos Harel

Haaretz

Tishrei 21, 5765

The IDF yesterday publicly admitted for the first time that intelligence experts are divided over the identity of the object that was filmed being loaded into a UN ambulance in Jabalya last week. Some think that it was a Qassam rocket, others say it was just a stretcher as the UN Relief and Works Agency said all along.

When the film was released last Friday, Israeli spokesmen insisted it showed a Qassam being loaded into the ambulance. But last night, Major General Israel Ziv, head of the IDF Operations Directorate, called a news conference and admitted that IDF analysts who reexamined the picture had their doubts.

"The reexamination revealed there are doubts among the analysts as to what it is," he said. "The argument continues to this minute. Some say it's a weapon and some say the high is it's an innocent object."

It the army concludes it was wrong, Ziv said, it will apologize. Meanwhile, it has removed the pictures from its web site. Nevertheless, Ziv said, the film also shows two UN vehicles near a group of Palestinians placing bombs at the entrance to Jabalya.

"To our understanding, the aim was to provide cover for terrorist activity. The circumstances under which the UN vehicle moved - that has a connection to terrorist activity," he said.

Ziv said the IDF has arrested 13 Palestinian employees of various UN organizations on suspicion of being involved in terrorism, some of whom will be indicted soon. In addition, he said, the IDF has collected testimony about the help employees of UN organizations have given to Palestinian terror organizations.

"We will present these facts to the UN committee when it arrives," he said, referring to the panel that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan set up on Monday to investigate Israel's allegations against UNRWA.

Ziv refused to answer reporters' questions on whether the hasty public relations use of the film was spurred by pressure on the army from the Prime Minister's Office.

In an interview with Haaretz yesterday, UNRWA director Peter Hansen accused Israel of incitement against the UN organization and said he doubted Israel's "mistake" over the stretcher was innocent. He said he hopes Israel will apologize.



"It's good Israel is recanting," he said. "I only hope that the correction will be disseminated as widely as the accusations against us were."

Hansen charged that the Qassam affair reflected a typical pattern of Israeli behavior toward the UN - crude accusations unsubstantiated in fact and which eventually fizzle out but without Israel ever bothering to apologize. He also complained that Israeli soldiers manning checkpoints have now been expressing hostility toward UNRWA workers, accusing them of helping terrorists.

Meanwhile, the United States last night vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's operation in Gaza and demanding that it end immediately. Eleven countries voted in favor of the resolution; Britain, Germany and Romania abstained.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Danforth had said on Monday that the U.S. would veto any resolution that did not mention Hamas terrorism, but yesterday, he was more outspoken and leveled unusually blunt criticism at the council.

The resolution, he said, was totally one-sided. "It tends to put the blame on Israel and absolves terrorists in the Middle East - people who shoot rockets into civilian areas, people who are responsible for killing children, Hamas. Nothing was said in this resolution about that problem."

Terming the resolution "one more step on the road to nowhere," Danforth accused the council of acting "as the adversary of the Israelis and cheerleader for the Palestinians." Should it pass, he added, "it would be a very terrible statement for the Security Council to make," because it acquiesces in terror against Israelis.

Britain, Germany and Romania abstained after the resolution's sponsor, Algeria, acting at the Palestinians' behest, rejected a European proposal to balance the condemnation of Israel with a condemnation of Hamas's Qassam attacks on Sderot.