- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

NEW YORK — U.N. officials said yesterday that vehicles used by Hezbollah guerrillas in the October kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers showed significant blood stains, indicating that the soldiers may have been killed or badly injured in the assault.
Israel's ambassador, however, said his government believes the soldiers kidnapped in an Oct. 7 raid from southern Lebanon are still alive.
The United Nations has long downplayed the importance of amateur videos related to the kidnapping, one of which was shot by U.N. peacekeepers shortly after the abductions.
The U.N. video shows two sport utility vehicles disguised to look as though they belong to U.N. peacekeepers, as well as the faces of armed Hezbollah guerrillas protecting them.
The United Nations had previously said there were only "drops" of blood.
"The quantity of blood found in the cars made it likely that the occupants 'may have been badly injured and may succumb to their injuries,'" wrote the authors of an internal investigation, quoting Gen. Ganesan Athmanathan, deputy commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, who evaluated the tape within days of the events.
Gen. Athmanathan's evaluation was disclosed yesterday in a report that sought to explain why the world body had for months denied that the tapes even existed.
Israel's U.N. ambassador, Yehuda Lancry, in a news conference called to respond to the U.N. report, said his government has "the strong assumption that our soldiers are alive."
"I can reveal from our sources that we had that assessment," Mr. Lancry said. He also cited public statements by the Hezbollah leadership.
He said Israel was sending experts here early next week to view an edited version of the videotape and to study blood-stained material salvaged from the vehicles.
Israel had previously refused to watch the tape, in which the United Nations obscured the faces of Hezbollah fighters who were guarding the vehicles.
U.N. officials stressed yesterday that there is no telling whose blood was spilled in the two vehicles, a Range Rover and a Nissan Pathfinder, with fake U.N. license plates and stolen U.N. peacekeeping insignias and U.N. uniforms that were found inside.
Blood was found on the car mats, pieces of clothing and a sleeping bag inside one of the vehicles.
The United Nations is probing its handling of the videotape, shot the day after the kidnapping and desperately sought by the Israeli government for clues to the soldiers' whereabouts and condition.
The half-hour tape was made by an Indian peacekeeper and shows armed Hezbollah members trying to prevent the United Nations from moving two vehicles thought to be used in the abduction.
It also shows peacekeepers removing bloody items from the vehicles.
Israeli authorities have been demanding for months to see an unedited version of the videotape, which senior U.N. officials in New York say they learned about only in July.
The investigation, led by Joseph Connor, the undersecretary-general of administration and management, found a repeated failure of the U.N. peacekeeping department and secretariat to evaluate and share potentially vital information.
"There was a tendency by some U.N. officials to overprotect information or, at a minimum, not to disclose it to superiors in the belief that their judgment alone is correct," Mr. Connor told reporters and members of the Security Council yesterday.
"These failings left colleagues and senior officials unaware of key developments they needed to know and which could have had important political implications," he said.
But he stressed that the Israeli government was not deliberately misled and denied that there was any collusion between the peacekeepers and Hezbollah, as once charged by the Israeli government.
"The mistakes made by United Nations officials should be seen as lapses in judgment and failures in communication, not as conspiracies or bad faith," Mr. Connor said.
The investigation's findings came at an awkward time for the United Nations, with diplomats in Geneva debating how to address Zionism in the upcoming conference on racism and the U.N. Security Council quietly considering how to authorize an unarmed observer force in Palestinian territories.

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