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Department of Public Information (DPI)
7 September 1948
Department of Public Information
Press and Publications Bureau
Lake Success, New York
Press Release PAL/277
7 September 1948
UN MEDIATOR CHARGES EGYPT WITH
"GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY" IN OBSERVER DEATHS
(The following has been received today at UN Headquarters from the
Press Officer with the UN Mediator for Palestine, at Rhodes).
The United Nations Mediator for Palestine today (6 September) charged Egyptian authorities with "very grave responsibility" in the death of two French UN observers at Gaza airfield on 28 August, and asked punishment of the offenders and immediate redress.
In a cable to the President of the Security Council in Paris, which Count Bernadotte sent as he departed for Alexandria, it was revealed, after an extensive investigation by a United Nations team stationed in Gaza, of the killing of the French observers of the Truce Supervision Group, that Lt. Col. Joseph Queru and Capt. Pierre Jeannel, while unarmed "were killed by unprovoked gun-fire from Saudi Arabian irregulars under Egyptian command on the Gaza airfield after they descended from their aircraft."
At the same time the Mediator drafted a protest to the Egyptian Government which he will personally hand today, 6 September, to the Egyptian Prime Minister.
The facts of the case as contained in both documents are as follows: (1) that the United Nations two-seater Auster plane, clearly painted white with United Nations markings, landed on Gaza airfield where both officers were killed by Saudi Arabian irregulars; (2) that Capt. Jeannel was killed on the field while Lt. Col. Queru was mortally wounded and probably died en route to or at the hospital. Their clothing, jewelry and other belongings were stolen from the officers before Egyptian regulars could remove them from the field; (3) that Egyptian regulars tried to rescue the United Nations officers and five of them were wounded in the attempt; (4) that notification of the arrival of the UN plane did not reach the Egyptian authorities at Gaza due to a breakdown in UN communications; (5) that the Auster plane flew over a prohibited zone at Gaza and was fired at by Egyptian anti-aircraft artillery twenty times.
The report stated that the element of responsibility admittedly rests with the United Nations truce supervision machinery, since the telegram announcing the arrival of the plane never reached Gaza and no confirmation of whether clearance was granted was obtained by the United Nations.
Nevertheless, the report concluded that the two gallant unarmed French officers were savagely murdered and robbed and that "the ineffective functioning of communications and transport aspects of United Nations truce supervision machinery does not in any sense relieve the Egyptian authorities of their very grave responsibility in this matter."
The report said that Egyptian anti-aircraft fired at the plane thinking it Jewish when it flew over Gaza. The report recognized the fact the Jewish planes of the same or similar type as the Auster, painted white, had flown over the Egyptian lines in that area contrary to the terms of the truce, but that the United Nations plane flew low enough (4 to 5 hundred meters) so that its UN markings could be clearly recognizable with field glasses.
Furthermore, the report declared that a deliberate attempt to shoot down the plane which was not committing any war-like act, was itself thoroughly unjustified. The document said the Egyptian authorities were responsible for leaving the guard of the airfield in the hands of Saudi Arabian troops "notably lacking in discipline," adding that the removal of those Saudi Arabians from the area by Egyptian regulars after the incident "is in itself an admission of this serious responsibility."
Count Bernadotte's communication to the Egyptian Prime Minister said in part: "Irrespective of any consideration relating to the flight of this official United Nations plane, painted white and bearing United Nations markings, I must conclude that this act of killing in cold blood two helpless unarmed men, after they had abandoned their plane, constitutes a shocking and extremely grave episode in the relations between United Nations observers and forces under Egyptian command in Palestine. These two officers enlisted in the cause of peace in Palestine, lost their lives in an area under Egyptian military control, and at the hands of personnel under Egyptian command. These are acts therefore, for which the Egyptian Government must be held responsible, and I assume your Government will accept this responsibility.
"I must request your Government accordingly, promptly to take all necessary measures to establish the identify of the guilty individuals, punish the mean and officers responsible for this act, and communicate to me all such measures taken."
Meanwhile in Haifa, the UN Mediator's Central Truce Supervision Board released on 6 September, a decision which states that Arab Legion forces committed a serious violation of the Truce by shooting and severely wounding French gendarme Jean Dubois in Jerusalem on 20 August.
Four other decisions rendered by the Chief of Staff concerned local incidents. Three cases -- two Egyptian and one from Transjordan -- charged against the Jews were found justified and Israeli forces were found guilty of breaches of the Truce. The fourth case concerned an Israeli charge against Kaukjis forces, but the Chief of Staff found the Jewish charges unfounded.
Copies of all decisions were handed over to the Governments concerned on behalf of the Mediator.
The Board took this opportunity to remind all parties that "continuous, serious violations of the Truce would have very grave implications."
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