Courage of spouse, cowardice of Security Council

July 28, 2006

In News News Staff

The wife of Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, missing and presumed dead after an Israeli attack on his UN post, has charged the bombing was “intentional.”

“The building was clearly marked, their vehicles were clearly marked, they were clearly marked as UN observers,” Cynthia Hess-von Kruedener told reporters Thursday.

“So why were (the Israelis) firing on that base? … In my opinion, those were precision-guided missiles, so the attack was intentional.”

She also said that Israel had attacked the area several times before, “for weeks upon weeks,” according to her husband.

The Canadian government identified Hess-von Kruedener of Kingston, Ont., as missing and presumed dead following the Israeli bombardment on Tuesday.

The post was located in the town of Khiam, near the eastern end of Lebanon’s border with Israel.

Cynthia Hess-von Kruedener said she remains optimistic her husband is still alive.

“There is no other way to be at this point in time. Nothing is confirmed, and I do believe in prayer and I do believe in miracles,” she told reporters.

She added that she wants the bombing site excavated as soon as possible, and that a search should be set up in the surrounding area.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he wants to speak to the United Nations and the Israeli government about the shelling of the post, which also killed three other UN observers.

Harper, speaking after a funding announcement in eastern New Brunswick, called the incident a “terrible tragedy.”

However, he questioned why the observation was manned, given the Israeli offensive that had started in southern Lebanon two weeks earlier.

“We want to find out why this United Nations post was attacked and also why it remained manned during what is now, more or less, a war during obvious danger to these individuals,” said Harper.

He also did not condemn Israel’s show of force.

“I think this event is obviously a terrible tragedy,” he said. “But that doesn’t change the right of a country to defend itself against terrorists and violent attacks.”

On Thursday, interim Liberal leader Bill Graham called Harper’s comments “unacceptable,” and said they endangered Canada’s reputation as having an international peacekeeping role.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Harper late Wednesday to express “deep regret” for the death of the Canadian soldier.

“Olmert offered his government’s full co-operation to Canadians investigating the incident,” Carolyn Olsen, a spokeswoman for Harper’s office, said in a statement.

Olmert also called UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday, after the UN chief raised the ire of many by saying the bombing was “apparently deliberate.”

Israeli officials deny such a charge, but an initial UN report suggests before the post was hit, peacekeepers called the Israeli military 10 times in a six-hour period to warn them the shelling was getting too near.

Harper said he didn’t think the post was shelled on purpose.

“I certainly doubt that to be the case, given that the government of Israel has been co-operating with us in our evacuation efforts, in our efforts to move Canadian citizens out of Lebanon and also trying to keep our own troops that are on the ground, involved in the evacuation, out of harm’s way,” he said.

The Israeli bomb killed three UN observers from Austria, China and Finland, according to UN and Lebanese military officials.

Soldier tells of fighting

Hess-von Kruedener was the lone Canadian Forces observer in southern Lebanon, and was assigned to report on ceasefire violations with the Observer Group Lebanon (OGL). His group, Team Sierra, was based 10 kilometres to the north of the Israel-Lebanon-Syria border.

On July 18, he provided with an update of his mission via e-mail. He said a great deal of fighting was taking place near his post.

“(O)ur vantage point which has a commanding view of the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) positions on the Golan mountains to our east and the IDF positions along the Blue Line to our south, as well as, most of the Hezbollah static positions in and around our patrol base.”

“It appears that the lion’s share of fighting between the IDF and Hezbollah has taken place in our area.”

He added that there had been numerous occasions when his post had come under fire, but wrote carefully to avoid revealing tactical information.

“What I can tell you is this: we have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both artillery and aerial bombing,” he wrote.

“The closest artillery has landed within two meters of our position and the closest 1000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters from our patrol base.”

Hess-von Kruedener had completed nine months of his one-year tour of duty with the UN in Lebanon. He was an infantry officer with 20 years service, and had done four earlier operational tours (in Cyprus, twice in Bosnia, and Congo).

His former commanding officer, retired Col. Bill Sutherland, said Hess-von Kruedener put all of his energy into becoming the best soldier possible.

“The first thing that struck me was just how incredibly physically fit he was, which was obviously a testament to the enthusiasm, dedication and desire he had to be a soldier,” Sutherland told CTV Newsnet by phone.

“Wolf loved … loves his duty. He loves what he does and he’s really good at it,” Maj. Gen. Stuart Beare, using his friend’s nickname, told reporters outside Hess-von Kruedener’s home in Kingston, Ont.

With a report from CTV’s Robert Fife and files from Canadian Press