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UN Set to Condemn Peacekeeper Deaths in Lebanon

The U.N. Security Council is debating a statement condemning the Israeli attack on a U.N. observer post in Lebanon.

China urged the Security Council to issue a strong condemnation of the Israeli attack that killed four blue-helmeted U.N. military observers. The dead included soldiers from China, Finland, Canada, and Austria.

The Chinese U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya described the attack as 'inexcusable'.

"For China and for others, we condemn this. Because I think any attack on the United Nations positions and United Nations personnel is inexcusable and unacceptable," he said.

Briefing the Council behind closed doors, assistant chief of U.N. peacekeeping operations Jane Hull Lute suggested the attack on the observer outpost may have been deliberate.

She said 21 strikes had occurred in the immediate vicinity of the U.N. position before it collapsed, killing the four military observers. She said that unlike in other areas, there had been no firing by Hezbollah militia units around the U.N. base.

Lute told the Security Council that as the shelling continued Tuesday, she and Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown had personally telephoned the Israeli mission to the United Nations several times to ask that it be stopped.

A summary of her briefing was made available to reporters by the U.N. secretariat.

During a meeting in Rome, Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement calling on Israel to investigate what he called "the apparently deliberate targeting" of the observer post.

Israeli officials have strongly denied that the attack was deliberate, saying it would make no sense to target U.N. observers. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke to Secretary-General Kofi Annan to express "deep sorrow", and promised to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says Washington favors a prompt Security Council reaction to the killings. But he said the statement should be narrowly focused.

"The objective of United States here is to make an appropriate statement in a very timely fashion about the deaths of the four UNIFIL observers and not to make this statement a backdoor way of getting into ceasefire or other larger political and military questions," said Bolton. "That is not appropriate here."

The draft statement under Council consideration expresses shock and distress at the Israeli attack, and notes that the U.N. post was long-established and clearly marked. It expresses grave concern at the escalation of conflict in Lebanon, and calls on all parties to refrain from targeting U.N. peacekeepers.