- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2001

NEW YORK — After months of denial, the United Nations yesterday acknowledged it has a videotape that Israel has long sought for clues in the October abduction of three of its soldiers near the Lebanese border.
The videotape, taken by a U.N. peacekeeper one day after the Oct. 7 abduction, not far from the abduction site, shows two abandoned vehicles with blood stains and fake U.N. license plates.
The tape also shows Lebanese men trying to prevent peacekeepers from towing the vehicles away.
The tape will be screened for Israeli and Lebanese authorities, U.N. Undersecretary-General of Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno told reporters at a hastily called news conference yesterday afternoon.
However, the faces of the non-U.N. personnel, which Mr. Guehenno described as possible Hezbollah guerrillas, will be masked before the tape is turned over out of fears for peacekeepers' security.
Yesterday's admission by the United Nations marked a bizarre turn in an ongoing dispute between Israel and the world body.
For months, the United Nations had flatly denied that such a video even existed, while Israeli officials said otherwise.
"We are not covering up anything," Mr. Guehenno said yesterday. "This tape has taken on a life of its own."
News of the videotape drew angry protests from the Israeli government and pro-Israeli organizations and looked certain to fuel long-standing animosity between the United Nations and the Jewish state.
Some two dozen Israeli students briefly marched in the park opposite the U.N. headquarters in New York yesterday afternoon.
"When the question of the film came up, people were consistently told it doesn't exist. For all these months, people lied, and did so throughout the U.N. system," said Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
There was no official reaction last night from the Israeli government nor its U.N. mission, which was closed for the Sabbath.
The three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped, presumably by Hezbollah guerrillas, from the Israeli side of the border at an area called Shebaa Farms. They have not been heard from since.
Israeli media reported yesterday that there is a second tape showing the actual abduction. Mr. Guehenno said the U.N. secretariat had no such tape, "but if someone in Lebanon has made a tape, we have no way to tell."
Despite repeated entreaties from Israeli military and political officials, U.N. officials had maintained for months that they did not have any fresh information, including photographs, to share with the authorities.
Mr. Guehenno said his department first learned of the videotape on June 6 but dismissed it as irrelevant because it was shot the day after the abduction.
Nonetheless, he told reporters yesterday, he asked senior officials to review the tape for its "humanitarian value."
"Seeing vehicles abandoned on the side of the road will not clarify the abduction," Mr. Guehenno said.
Even after officials became aware of the tape — when the commanding officer turned it in before leaving the duty posting — they were reluctant to share it out of security concerns, Mr. Guehenno said.
"The U.N. has a duty to protect the confidentiality of its internal documents," he said. "It also has a duty to take into consideration the security of its personnel.
"At the same time, we understand the plight and anxiety of the families who want to know as much as possible."
By turns combative and defensive, Mr. Guehenno repeatedly insisted the tape would provide no information in the search for the missing soldiers.
He said the peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, known as the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, had a very limited mandate that did not include investigating crime scenes.
Mr. Guehenno declined to say who had reviewed the tape, nor did he acknowledge that spots he identified as drops of blood should have roused curiosity.
"Blood is always very dramatic, but when the representatives of the governments see the blood … they will see it could be from a small wound," he said.

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