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The Lessons of Qana

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On April 18, 1996, Israeli artillery fired on a United Nations compound in Qana, southern Lebanon. In less than ten minutes, more than 100 Lebanese civilians sheltered in the compound died. Then U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali ordered his military adviser, General van Kappen, to conduct an inquiry. Van Kappen's report itself became a subject of controversy and a source of acute tension between the Secretary-General and the United States. Alas, like so many sensational incidents in armed conflict that momentarily engage world attention and then recede as newer and more vivid horrors seize the screen, Qana has already been virtually forgotten. It should not be. It has implications for U.N. actions in the future and, more generally, for the way that humanitarian law will deal with advanced industrial states' increasing propensity to apply the legal requirements of proportionality and weapon discrimination in ways that minimize their own exposure to casualty.

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