An e-mail sent by a Canadian U.N. observer and obtained by FOX News casts doubt on claims by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the Israeli attack on a U.N. peacekeeper observation post along the Lebanese border was intentional.
The email from Major Paeta Hess-von Kruedener warned that the post had come under "unintentional" artillery fire and aerial bombing several times in the previous weeks, and that several Hezbollah positions were in the area of the patrol base.
"It is not safe or prudent for us to conduct normal patrol activities," wrote Kruedener in the July 18th e-mail. "(The artillery and aerial bombing) has not been deliberate targeting, but has rather been due to tactical necessity."
Kruedener was one of four unarmed U.N. military observers killed in Tuesday's bombing.
"I think that e-mail is very important, because unfortunately these are practically the last words of somebody who eventually paid with his life,” said Israel's U.N. ambassador Daniel Gillerman. “He's telling his commander that Israel was not targeting them and that there is Hezbollah activity around there."
After a day and night of wrangling over a response to Tuesday's attack, all 15 council members agreed on the watered-down statement, which was the first by the Security Council since fighting between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas began on July 12.
In the only reference to the wider conflict, the council expressed its "deep concern for Lebanese and Israeli civilian casualties and sufferings, the destruction of civil infrastructures and the rising number of internally displaced people."
The statement was read at a formal meeting by the current council president, France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. Unlike press statements, presidential statements become part of the council's official record.
The United States, Israel's closest ally, insisted on dropping any condemnation or allusion to the possibility that Israel deliberately targeted the post in the town of Khiam near the eastern end of the border with Israel.
The initial draft proposed by China would have had the council express shock and distress at Israel's "apparently deliberate targeting" of the U.N. base and condemn "this coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long-established and clearly marked U.N. post."
In that draft, China was following Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement late Tuesday that Israel appeared to have struck the site deliberately — an accusation Israel vehemently denies.
Gillerman called the statement "very fair and balanced" and said it was right for the council to adopt it in memory of the four peacekeepers. He expressed "deep regret for the tragic accident," repeated Israel's dismay at Annan's statement, and stressed that "Israel would never, ever target U.N. personnel."
In a Security Council briefing on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary-General Jane Lute said the base came under close Israeli fire 21 times, including 12 hits within 100 meters (109 yards) and four direct hits. U.N. officials in New York and Lebanon repeatedly protested to Israel in the hours before a bomb leveled the building and killed the four observers, she said.
A revised draft dropped the reference to the "apparently deliberate targeting" but kept in the condemnation. It said "the Security Council condemns any deliberate attack against U.N. personnel and emphasizes that any such attacks are unacceptable."
That was still unacceptable to the Americans — as was a call for a joint Israeli-U.N. investigation into the incident, which Annan called for.
The final text said "the Security Council is deeply shocked and distressed by the firing by the Israeli Defense Forces on a United Nations Observer post in southern Lebanon..."
The condemnation of Israel was eliminated, as was the call for a joint investigation.
In the final statement, the council called on Israel "to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into this incident, taking into account any relevant material from U.N. authorities, and to make the results public as soon as possible."
The council expressed deep concern about the safety and security of U.N. personnel and stressed that Israel and all concerned parties must comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law which include protecting U.N. personnel. It underlined "the importance of ensuring that U.N. personnel are not the object of attack."
The Security Council also extended condolences to the families of the victims and the governments of Austria, Canada, China and Finland whose peacekeepers were killed in the attack.
The widow of Maj. Kruedner, whose body has still not been recovered from the rubble, demanded an explanation from Israel. Cynthia Hess-von Kruedener, told reporters in Kingston, Ontario, that she believes the attack, which involved precision guided missiles, was intentional. She said her husband told her the base had been fired on for weeks, despite its clear U.N. markings.
Earlier Thursday, when it was unclear whether the council would agree on any statement, China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya warned that the council's failure to act could have an impact on other issues, including its current efforts to agree on a resolution that would make mandatory Iran's suspension of uranium enrichment.
"If we got stuck on this particular issue for political considerations, definitely I think that people will feel frustrated, and definitely I think it will affect smooth cooperation on other important issues, because I think this organization cannot discuss issues on a selective basis," he said.
"We feel that if the Security Council cannot send a strong political message supporting our guys on the ground, it will be very difficult for people to understand," Wang said. "If we do not do anything, I think that the message will be interpreted very negatively."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.