Monday, June 25, 2007

Bombing in South Lebanon kills five peacekeeping troops

Bombing in South Lebanon kills five peacekeeping troops
By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Five members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were killed on Sunday when a bomb struck their convoy between the towns of Khiam and Marjayoun. Initial reports diverged about the nature of the attack and the nationalities of the dead peacekeepers, but it was clearly the deadliest incident involving UNIFIL since an Israeli air strike killed four observers at a UN post in Khiam during last summer's war. Lebanese security sources told The Daily Star that a bomb had been placed inside an empty Renault Rapid and was detonated by remote control, while the Reuters news agency reported that a suicide bomber had carried out the attack. "No blood has been found inside the booby-trapped car," the Lebanese source said.

According to a statement released by the Spanish Defense Ministry, two of its soldiers and three Colombian peacekeepers were killed in the attack. Earlier reports had put the number of dead at four - all Spaniards. The blast targeted an armored vehicle from UNIFIL's Spanish contingent during a regular patrol around 2 p.m. along the main road between Khiam and Marjayoun. Witnesses reported hearing another explosion shortly afterward, believed to have been either ammunition or the vehicle's fuel tank, security sources said.

A UNIFIL spokeswoman confirmed that a blast had occurred and caused casualties, but gave no details. As The Daily Star went to press, no one had claimed responsibility for the bombing. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora condemned the attack and called Spanish officials to pay his condolences for those killed. "This is a terrorist act that ... targets Lebanon's stability and especially the South, as well as the UN," he said in a statement released by his office. Hizbullah also condemned the attack, saying it was designed to destabilize the country. "Hizbullah vigorously condemns the attack [and] considers it a suspicious act which hurts Lebanon and its inhabitants," the group's Al-Manar television reported. "The attack hurts the people of the South and of Lebanon," the statement added. Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri also deplored the incident. "This criminal act is an attempt to hamper UN Resolution 1701 and is part of a campaign to destabilize Lebanon," Hariri said, referring to the resolution that ended last summer's war.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a joint condemnation of the attack in South Lebanon. There have been warnings that the peacekeepers could come under terror attacks, particularly from Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahri, who earlier this year called on "brothers of Islam" to resist and "not accept" the presence of "international and Crusaders forces in the South." Media reports earlier this month said interrogations by Lebanese authorities of captured militants had indicated that plots to attack the force were under way. - With additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

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