Thursday, October 26, 2006

Israeli F-16s tangle with German warship off Lebanese coast

Israeli F-16s tangle with German warship off Lebanese coast
By Rym Ghazal, Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Two Israeli warplanes and a German Navy vessel clashed off the Lebanese coast, the Defense Ministry in Berlin said on Wednesday. Details on the incident were not available by the time The Daily Star went to press. The incident is the first reported clash between the Israeli Army and the international peacekeeping force in Lebanon. German daily Der Tagesspiegel quoted a junior Defense Minister on Wednesday as telling a parliamentary committee that two Israeli F-16 fighter-bombers flew at a low altitude over the German ship and fired two shots. It wasn't clear from the report what type of ammunition was used or where the shots were aimed. The jets also released infra-red countermeasures to ward off any missile attack, the newspaper said.

The minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not say when the incident happened or what had caused it, it added. "I can confirm that there was an incident," a German Defense Ministry spokesman told Reuters on Wednesday. The official was unable to provide further information as an investigation was under way. UNIFIL officials refrained from commenting on the incident, telling The Daily Star they were also conducting their own investigation. A spokesman for the German mission in Lebanon said it was investigating the reports, but was not itself aware of any such incident. But according to the Naval Operations Command in Berlin, there was "an incident." "We are still investigating the incident and will have the fuller picture by tomorrow," a spokesperson at naval command told The Daily Star.

Israel, however, has denied any such incident.

Germany assumed command of a UN naval force off the coast of Lebanon 10 days ago and has sent a force of eight ships and 1,000 service personnel to join the international peace operation in the region. The naval force is charged with preventing weapons smuggling and helping maintain an August 14 cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah. Germany is only heading the naval component of the UN force in Lebanon, having refused to contribute ground troops in a bid to avoid clashes with Israeli forces due to lingering sensitivities over the Holocaust. The incident also follows repeated warnings by France and the United Nations over the past two weeks that Israel was endangering the multinational peace mission in Lebanon by sending its fighter planes into Lebanese airspace. - With agencies

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