Thursday, November 09, 2006

French troops almost fired at Israel jets: minister

French troops almost fired at Israel jets: minister

French peacekeeping troops in Lebanon recently came within two seconds of firing missiles at Israeli fighter jets that approached as if to attack them, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said. Speaking to the lower house of parliament on Wednesday night, she said this was the latest in a string of incidents in which Israeli warplanes had "adopted a hostile attitude" to French and German forces and said it was "not tolerable." "A catastrophe was narrowly avoided by our troops," Alliot-Marie said, according to a transcript of her comments. She did not say exactly when or where the events took place. Israeli F-15s descended rapidly and then rose quickly as if they were dropping bombs or firing at the French ground forces, which are part of U.N. peacekeeping force UNIFIL, she said. "In legitimate defense, our soldiers removed the covers from the missile battery and were two seconds away from firing at the planes that were threatening them," she said.

Israeli jets have routinely flown over Lebanon since a 34-day war between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas ended on August 14 in a U.N.-sponsored ceasefire and the expanded deployment of international peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. The Lebanese government and the U.N. force say the Israeli flights violate a U.N. ceasefire resolution. But Israel says the missions are necessary to help ensure that arms are not smuggled into southern Lebanon from Syria to resupply Hezbollah.
France has repeatedly called on Israel to stop the flights. "I therefore draw your attention, after having done so at the U.N., to the respect needed for UNIFIL forces and to the risk that irresponsible pilots take by acting this way," Alliot-Marie told lawmakers.

The Israeli air force was also involved last month in two encounters with German forces. The first concerned two planes which a German paper said had fired twice as they flew over a German navy ship. Israel denied they fired but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed regret over what he called "misunderstandings."
A subsequent incident, described by Germany as "not menacing," involved a German navy helicopter and Israeli F-16 fighters.

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