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The BBC's Frank Gardner
"The film was shot by Indian peacekeepers"
 real 28k

Monday, 9 July, 2001, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Israel demands UN's Hezbollah tape
Hezbollah guerrilla
Hezbollah guerrillas - still holding the hostages
The Israeli defence minister has written to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, demanding that the UN hand over a complete and unedited copy of a video tape made by peacekeepers at the scene of the abduction of three Israeli soldiers last October.

In the letter, Binyamin Ben Eliezer criticised the decision to allow Israel to see only an edited version as "disappointing and disturbing".

Staff Sergeant Benny Avraham, one of the three soldiers abducted in Lebanon
One of the three abducted soldiers
The 30-minute video was made a day after Hezbollah guerrillas abducted the men.

It reportedly shows bloodstained vehicles, forged license plates and bogus UN uniforms believed to have been used by Hezbollah to trap the Israeli soldiers, whose whereabouts are still unknown.

But the UN says it first has to obscure the faces of people in the film suspected of being Hezbollah guerrillas, in order to protect UN staff from retribution.

Both the Lebanese authorities and the Hezbollah movement say the tape should not be handed over under any circumstances.

No alterations

"What we want is to have this full video without any alterations or any censorship in order to be able to understand better what happened during the kidnapping and maybe know more about what happened to our people," Avi Pazner, an advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister, told the French news agency AFP.

"We don't want to create polemics with the United Nations, but there are question marks on why it is that for nine months this tape was not made available to us," he said.

Israel says it still has no idea what has happened to the three soldiers. Hezbollah wants the release of its activists held in Israel in return for the soldiers' release.

'Dangerous precedent'

The UN offer to release an edited version of the tape has brought condemnation from the Lebanese Government.

A UN peacekeeper from India in Lebanon
The UN disclosed only last week that it had the tape

A statement issued by the office of Lebanon's President, Emile Lahoud, said such a move would set a dangerous precedent and form a departure from the UN's mission in south Lebanon.

The UN maintains that the film sheds no new light on the circumstances of the abduction.

But Israel believes that even now, nine months after the event, the film could give its analysts clues that could help identify who took the men, and where they were taken.

As well as seeing the unedited tape, Israel also wants to question UN soldiers who were there at the time.

UN suspected

On Sunday the Israeli press reported that Israel even suspected UN troops of helping Hezbollah kidnap the soldiers.

The spokesman for the UN's operations in south Lebanon, Timur Goksel, strongly denied that.

He said there was no contact at any time between UN troops and the kidnappers.

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See also:

06 Jul 01 | Middle East
Envoys discuss Lebanon tension
24 May 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Lebanon one year on
10 Oct 00 | Middle East
Kidnapped Israelis 'alive and well'
16 Apr 01 | Middle East
Syria: The power in Lebanon
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