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Widow: 'He Did Die in Vain' - Israel Attacks UN Patrol Base
Widow: 'He Did Die in Vain' - Israel Attacks UN Patrol Base
Accountability: Israel has admitted to bombing UN outpost but not explained
'He did die in vain'
Cynthia Hess-Von Kruedener tells John Allemang why Stephen Harper must dig
deeper into her UN peacekeeper husband's death
On July 25, 2006, Major Paeta Hess-Von Kruedener, a 44-year-old Canadian
monitoring the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in South Lebanon as a
United Nations observer, died along with three colleagues after six hours of
Israeli attacks on his UN patrol base, culminating in the aerial bombardment
of the bunker where the men had taken shelter.
The final attack, by a 500-kilogram, precision-guided bomb, came despite
frequent appeals made to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) by UN officials to
halt the shelling.
The report of a Canadian military board of inquiry, released last Friday,
blamed the IDF for the attack, which it called preventable. However, because
Israeli authorities did not co-operate with the inquiry, Cynthia Hess-Von
Kruedener, now 47, remains unsatisfied with the investigation into her
husband's death. She shares her feelings from her home in Kingston, Ont.
Do you feel you're any closer to knowing the truth about what happened to
Do I know exactly what happened? I don't. Information is lacking. We don't
have the Israeli Defence Forces report, we don't have the statement of the
pilot who bombed the UN post, we don't have the video from the plane, we
don't have the rules of engagement that he flew under that day. That is what
we truly need in order to understand the cold hard truth of what happened.
Which is what the Canadian board of inquiry meant to find out, and yet we're
not much further ahead. Why?
The board of inquiry made the request of the IDF and we haven't had anything
from it. So now it's in Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper's hands. He has the
power and ability to call the Prime Minister of Israel to ask for all
details so we can come up with the correct conclusion as to exactly what
Why hasn't he done that?
I'll be asking him that. I don't know why he hasn't done that. He should
have. But he chose not to. You're involving the UN and Israel, it's very
complicated. But I don't think it's all that complicated to call the Prime
Minister of Israel and ask.
When your husband was killed, Mr. Harper questioned why the UN observers had
remained in such a dangerous position? How did that response strike you?
I guess I was upset and shocked that he should wonder why UN peacekeepers
were at a patrol base. They're there to witness and observe what is
happening so that war crimes aren't committed. Paeta knew why he was there,
I knew why he was there, and I'm shocked that Harper doesn't know why Paeta
Have you talked to Mr. Harper?
I've only spoken to him once, the day Paeta's body was taken to Toronto for
cremation. That evening, I received a five-minute call. He offered his
condolences, but I needed more than that. I needed his assurance that
something would happen because of Paeta's death, that the Prime Minister
would find out why that bunker was bombed - but that wasn't discussed.
General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff, called your husband's
death "a tragic accident." Do you accept that description?
That it was an accident? Unless you have the complete information, that's
assuming a whole lot. We don't know.
Regardless of whether it was an accident or not, four peacekeepers' lives
have ended. The UN was compromised. There has to be accountability for that.
Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, who presided over the inquiry, noted
that the Israeli Defence Forces had taken full responsibility for "the
operational and tactical errors" which led to the bombing. Isn't that
No, that's not. Claiming responsibility is only the beginning of it. From
what I can tell, there was six hours of artillery shelling. Apparently, that
was an operational error. They actually hit the bunker, and the doors to the
bunker were compromised.
And then there was the aerial bombing, which hit the bunker. How is that
possible? Once they attack the UN post, I believe they lose all privilege
for secrecy on this issue.
The UN commander gave the IDF the co-ordinates of the patrol base not once,
but several times. So, No. 1, they knew where it was. No. 2, the commander
told the IDF, "You are killing my people," so they knew there were UN people
>From what I understand, there's no indication that Hezbollah was in the area
at all, and the IDF actually were told by UN officials that the observers
were going to be evacuated out. Yet 40 minutes later, they bombed the post
with a precision-guided missile.
As a good friend of mine says, if it isn't precise, at the very least they
ought to rename it. That's my black humour, I guess.
Retired general Lewis MacKenzie suggested that Hezbollah was using the UN
observers as human shields, noting your husband's comments a week before he
was killed that Israeli strikes around the base were "a tactical necessity."
Lewis needs to come from an informed platform. That blog of my husband's was
on the 18th. The bombing was on the 25th. We know from the UN that there was
no Hezbollah presence at the post that day.
I don't know how much clearer that can be. The peacekeepers work for the UN,
they have a blue helmet, they're in a bunker that's clearly marked and there
are promises made that they won't be attacked. That day, the President of
Israel called Kofi Annan [then UN secretary-general] and said, "We will
spare those men." UN commanders that day spoke to the IDF and were told that
they wouldn't be attacked. And then you bomb them - that has to be
Commenting on the report, Rick Hillier said that your husband "did not die
in vain." Do you think he died in vain?
At this point in time? Absolutely. He did die in vain. What is being done?
What is being done by our government? Nothing.
Where do you go from here?
I'm going to write the Prime Minister. That's the next thing I'm going to do
today. I'm grateful that we had a board of inquiry. I'm thrilled that the
Prime Minster wants to get to the bottom of this. However, he needs to take
the next step. And unfortunately I have to write him to ask him to do that.
I don't understand why he hasn't done that.
Because what we've done is send a really clear message: If you kill UN
observers or attack a UN patrol base, we will do nothing about it. We will
conduct a board of inquiry, we won't have the full information and we won't
do anything about it.
John Allemang is a Globe and Mail writer and frequent Focus contributor.