Growing anger over US Middle East policy

FINLAND yesterday identified the 29-year-old naval officer killed when Israeli forces hit a United Nations observer mission in southern Lebanon on Tuesday.

Lt Jarno Makinen, had been part of the UN monitoring team in the Middle East since November, the military said. He died along with three other unarmed UN officers from Canada, China and Austria.

"It is feared that Makinen was killed in the strike on the Khiam observation post on 25 July," the Finnish statement read, but did not say that Lt Makinen's body had been found. No other details were given.

Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president whose country holds the European Union presidency, said that there was "no justification" for the attack and demanded "full clarification from Israeli officials".

The strike was also condemned by other Finnish officials, including Matti Vanhanen, the prime minister, who phoned his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Olmert, demanding a prompt investigation.

Finland has provided more than 43,000 personnel for UN peace missions since the 1950s, and currently has 14 peacekeepers in the Middle East. Forty-five Finnish soldiers have been killed in UN missions.

Israel has apologised for the incident, describing it as a mistake, but China was in no mood to let the matter rest at the UN yesterday, warning the United States that its opposition to a statement condemning the attack could have a "negative impact" on UN talks on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The US was blocking a UN Security Council statement on the incident, despite what diplomats called many compromises by Beijing. But the envoys said there was some hope a policy statement would be adopted.

"This is a serious matter," China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters after a private meeting with the US negotiators. "It is an attack on the UN peacekeepers.

"If the Security Council cannot send a strong political message supporting our guys on the ground, it will be difficult for people to understand," Mr Wang said.

Asked about the negotiations on a resolution on Iran that six nations are conducting, Mr Wang said nearly every delegation in the council was frustrated over the US position. "Definitely this frustration will have its negative impact," he added.

UN officials said on Wednesday numerous calls had been made to the Israeli military and its diplomats in New York to protest at repeated firing on the outpost.

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