The United Nations was accused Wednesday of allegedly helping Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist forces ambush three Israeli soldiers and abduct an Israeli citizen traveling in Europe.

The accusations were made by the mother of one of the Israeli soldiers and the chairwoman of the House subcommittee conducting a hearing on the fate of the Israelis.

According to press reports at the time, on October 7, 2000, Omar Suaed, Beni Avrham and Adi Avitan were in an Israeli army jeep when Hezbollah forces allegedly ambushed it near the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Disguised as United Nations peacekeepers, the Hezbollah guerrillas allegedly lured the soldiers close to the border fence, blew open the gate and opened fire on the soldiers in the proximity of the real U.N. peacekeepers operating along the Lebanese border.

Within minutes the Israelis had been bundled away across the border, but at the time of the incident, United Nations officials denied their peacekeepers had aided the Hezbollah guerillas.

Zipora Avitan, the mother of Adi Avitan, told the House Middle East subcommittee she believes the United Nations was complicit in her son’s death.

“We are ordinary people, not politicians, and our hearts ache at the way the U.N. treated us, at its deception. Slowly, as details of the incident became known, we started forming a clear picture of what happened. It was discovered that the terrorists used U.N. uniforms and vehicles, with the knowledge and consent of U.N. personnel,” she said, during her subcommittee testimony.

Sheik Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, later issued a statement saying his forces had indeed captured the Israeli soldiers.

Zipora Avitan said her persistent digging, and that done by the other families of the missing soldiers, helped reveal that the U.N. had information and even tapes from the day of the ambush.

“Furthermore, we felt that, instead of acting properly as representatives of an objective, apolitical body, they were covering up for the terrorists. Even today, there are many unanswered questions,” she said.

On October 16, Hezbollah allegedly captured Elchanan Tannenbaum, another Israeli citizen, while he was on a business trip to Europe. Tannenbaum, an Israeli Army reserve colonel, is still missing.

On October 29, 2000, the Israeli Defense Forces issued a statement indicating that the three soldiers were probably dead. The statement said nothing about the fate of Tannenbaum.

House Middle East Subcommittee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) blamed the United Nations Wednesday for not taking “any punitive action” against Hezbollah.

“The ensuing years have been filled with delays and confusion, all stemming from the United Nations,” she said. “Time and time again, the Israeli government requested information available to the United Nations.”

“If there is one thing the U.S. has learned from its own experiences with prisoners of war and those missing in action is that until all the evidence is reviewed, all sources of information are exhausted and there is no stone left unturned and their bodies are recovered, we must not lose hope that they have survived this terrible ordeal,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Ros-Lehtinen had requested that a U.N. representative testify before her subcommittee Wednesday, but the U.N. declined. “We are unable to send a representative,” said Catherine O’Neill, a United Nations official, in a letter to Ros-Lehtinen.

“In this particular case,” O’Neill continued, “the United Nations has shared with the government of Israel and the families, all information in its possession that could have shed light on the condition of the missing soldiers.”

“The secretary-general (Kofi Annan) has been in touch with the government of Israel at the highest levels and has also met with the families of the three abducted soldiers,” O’Neill said.

Ros-Lehtinen scoffed at that, saying “U.N. efforts regarding these cases also lead to questions about overall United Nations behavior toward the plight of the Israeli people and the State of Israel.”

After the hearing, Ros-Lehtinen said the subcommittee was gathering information to use in drafting future resolutions and possible legislation regarding the fate of the four Israelis.

This piece ran on the Wire on October 3, 2002