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Monday, 23 July, 2001, 01:35 GMT 02:35 UK
UN opens Lebanon video probe
Hezbollah member
The tape allegedly shows Hezbollah kidnappers
The United Nations has opened its investigation into the handling of a videotape which may provide clues about the abduction of Israeli soldiers by Lebanese militants.

The head of the inquiry, Under-Secretary General Joseph Connor, met officials from the UN's Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) in the southern town of Naqoura, close to the border with Israel, said a spokesman.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
The inquiry was ordered by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Mr Connor has been asked to compile a report into the affair, which has caused controversy in Israel and Lebanon, by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The video - made by UN peacekeepers about 18 hours after three Israeli soldiers were abducted in October - shows vehicles allegedly used by Hezbollah guerrillas.

The tape is also reported to show the faces of guerrillas who prevented the UN peacekeepers from salvaging the vehicles as evidence.

UN denial

After months of denying the existence of the footage, last week the UN offered to give Israel a censored copy - with faces blurred - in response to demands from the Israeli Government.

Staff Sergeant Benny Avraham, one of the three soldiers abducted in Lebanon
The soldiers have been held for nine months
Correspondents say the video has placed the UN in a tricky position, with Israel demanding the unedited footage, and Hezbollah saying that handing it over would effectively make the UN spies for Israel.

Israel has demanded for "the entire videotape and any other information concerning the capture of the soldiers".

There has been outrage in Israel that the UN at first denied the existence of the 30-minute video film, which may provide clues as to the fate of its soldiers.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reportedly apologised to Ariel Sharon for the UN's initial denial that the tape existed after a "harsh" exchange of words with the Israeli prime minister last week.

Suspicions

Ordinary Israelis are deeply suspicious of the UN, which they say is dominated by countries hostile to the Jewish state.

Lebanese-Israeli border
The soldiers were abducted in a tense border area
Many Palestinians, on the other hand, feel that UN is a US - and therefore pro-Israeli - lap-dog.

Hezbollah is still keeping the soldiers in a secret location and has refused to provide any information about them or a fourth Israeli captive until Israel agrees to release Lebanese prisoners it is holding as "bargaining chips" for missing Israeli servicemen in Lebanon.

Although nine months have passed since the soldiers were abducted, Israel believes the video-tape may provide new clues for its analysts.

See also:

09 Jul 01 | Middle East
Israel demands UN's Hezbollah tape
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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