Four United Nations peacekeepers stationed along the border Israel shares with Lebanon were killed when their base was hit by an Israeli air strike.
According to all accounts, the base suffered at least five direct hits, and, according to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Israeli air strike was "apparently deliberate." The U.N. post was "long established and clearly marked," Annan said Wednesday.
That is evidently the only fact not in dispute – that the base was clearly marked and had been there a long time. Israel is well aware of the base; IDF soldiers have been routinely attacked or kidnapped from within sight of the U.N. outpost for years.
But, as to the charge that the strike was "apparently deliberate" – that is a bone of some contention. To read mainstream media accounts, the peacekeepers made repeated calls to Israeli officials, "pleading" with them to lift their fire. For example the Los Angeles Times reported, "The calls went unheeded and the fire continued even when a U.N. rescue mission was under way after a direct hit on the observer post."
It does sound like Israel was doing a little getting even with the U.N. for 28 years of looking the other way while Hezbollah attacked the Jewish state with impunity.
Most of the mainstream coverage of the war has followed the same pattern: Western journalists report from the Israel side as rockets rain down randomly on Israeli cities.
But the in-depth reporting about civilian death and damage is all about the carnage being inflicted on the Lebanese side by Israeli precision air strikes and artillery barrages. From time to time, some reference is made to the fact that Hezbollah is fighting from inside civilian areas, near hospitals, schools and mosques. Occasionally, some accounts will even note that Hezbollah is storing its weapons caches inside private homes. But by and large, it is Israel that is invariably blamed for the collateral damage, rather than Hezbollah for putting the civilians in harm's way.
Need proof? Kofi Annan blamed Israel for "apparently deliberately targeting the U.N. outpost" – but said nothing about the fact that before the peacekeeping unit was "begging" Israel to lift their fire, they were begging Kofi to relieve them of their post.
What role do peacekeepers have to play in the midst of a battlefield, anyway? Why didn't Kofi approve their request to withdraw? More than a week before, the Canadian officer in charge of the installation warned the Circus on the East River that Hezbollah fighters were "all over" their installation. He noted that Hezbollah was setting up and firing rockets only yards outside the U.N.'s compound. He expressed his fear that Hezbollah, by its presence, was painting a target on them, in an e-mail since released by Canadian Gen. Lewis McKenzie.
The U.N. refused to relieve the peacekeepers, and the Canadian officer who sent the e-mail was among those killed in the air strike. It was almost as if Kofi was daring Israel to return fire so close to a U.N. outpost.
Or hoping that they would.