Monday, October 30, 2006

Berlin confirms second incident with Israeli planes off coast of Lebanon

Berlin confirms second incident with Israeli planes off coast of Lebanon
German defense minister plans visits to tell aviv, beirut on Friday
Compiled by Daily Star staff

Germany confirmed on Sunday that its naval forces serving with the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon were involved in a second incident with Israeli warplanes last week, and said its defense minister would visit the region this week. Conflicting reports emerged last week about an incident that apparently took place on Tuesday. German officials said Israeli F-16 fighter-bombers buzzed the Alster, an intelligence-gathering vessel operating in international waters about 50 kilometers off the coast of Lebanon, and even fired several shots over the ship. Israel denied that shots were fired and said the planes approached a helicopter after it took off from a German ship without notifying Israeli forces. The German Defense Ministry said Sunday that its navy had been involved in a second incident involving Israeli jets. The Defense Ministry said this one occurred later on Tuesday and that it involved a German Navy helicopter and Israeli F-16s. The helicopter had taken off from an unidentified ship and was heading in the general direction of Israel but was turned back by the F-16s. "We are aware of the episode, but it was not menacing," the spokesman said after the Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported that the Israeli planes had "dangerously badgered" the helicopter. The spokesman said the area was used by the Israeli Air Force for training, adding: "Perhaps other standards apply for them than for us." There were certain incidents, which we have discussed with Israel in the appropriate form," German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung was quoted as saying by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily in a preview of an interview to be published Monday. "Conclusions have been drawn from this for the future. I view the case as closed," he added.

Jung will be traveling to Israel and Lebanon on Friday to discuss the incident with his counterparts. The trip to the Middle East was finalized after Jung held a telephone conversation with Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz over the weekend in which Peretz "expressed his regret" to his German counterpart for the incident and said he wanted to "achieve improvements in the cooperation with the state of Israel." "I don't expect any repeat of such an incident," Jung said late Friday on Germany's state-run ZDF television. After meeting with Peretz in Tel Aviv, Jung will fly to Beirut and meet with Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora and Defense Minister Elias Murr. Jung added that things were smooth with his Lebanese counterpart, saying: "This mission is proceeding properly. We have excellent cooperation from the Lebanese authorities." The incidents have highlighted a problem of clarity over the naval force's jurisdictions, with the German press reporting that the naval force's mandate does not allow ships to come within 10 kilometers of the Lebanese coast without permission from Beirut. But according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German ships can patrol all coastal waters without restrictions on to their deployments. In mid-October, Germany took charge of the multinational naval force patrolling Lebanon's coastline to prevent alleged arms shipments from reaching Hizbullah following the recent war with Israel. Merkel was quoted in Beirut's Al-Mustaqbal daily, which is owned by the late Premier Rafik Hariri's family, on Sunday as defending the presence of the Germany Navy off Lebanon. "They are there to preserve the truce and Lebanon's sovereignty," she told the paper Merkel added that in the event "the German [Navy] can't do its job, then there will be renewed discussions over their tasks," adding that so far, she is "comfortable" with how things are going for the German peacekeeping contingent.

The incidents with the Israeli forces have led to a heated debate within Germany, with several media outlets reflecting on the troops' mandate in Lebanon and the risk that they could clash with Israeli soldiers - a possibility that is viewed with considerable unease in Germany because of the country's Nazi past. - With agencies

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