Irish soldier in UN peacekeeper force killed in southern Lebanon

United Nations force deployed along Israel-Lebanon frontier attacked, leaving Irish soldier dead, multiple soldiers wounded.

By Abbey Sewell and Kareem Chehayeb, The Associated Press

An Irish United Nations peacekeeper was killed and several others wounded after unidentified attackers opened fire on a convoy in southern Lebanon, Irish and Lebanese military officials said Thursday.

The Irish Defense Forces said in a statement said that a pair of armored vehicles carrying eight Irish UNIFIL peacekeeping troops were fired at as they drove north, toward Beirut, Tuesday night from the town of Al-Aqbiya.

The Irish military added that one of the three wounded soldiers is in serious condition. It did not identify the assailants.

UNIFIL confirmed that one peacekeeper was killed and three were wounded but did not share further details.

“Our thoughts are also with the local civilians who may have been injured or frightened during the incident,” UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said, adding that “details are sparse and conflicting.” Tenenti added that UNIFIL is coordinating with the military and trying to “determine exactly what happened.”

A source familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said that the armored vehicle carrying the peacekeepers had rolled over while trying to escape the scene after locals began shooting.

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Local residents were angered and became aggressive when two UNIFIL armored vehicles, which were heading to the Beirut airport, took a detour through Al-Aqbiya, which is not part of the area under UNIFIL’s mandate, the source said.

It is not yet clear if the victim died from gunfire or from wounds sustained in the crash, the person said.

Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry condemned the incident, while the office of Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in a statement called for an investigation.

“He praised the sacrifices that UNIFIL forces made to maintain peace in the south, which reflects stability for the people of the region and Lebanon in general,” the statement from Mikati’s office said.

Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin expressed his condolences in a statement on Twitter.

“It is a reminder that our peacekeepers serve in dangerous circumstances, at all times, in the cause of peace,” he said.

Cell phone videos circulated online shows one of the two UNIFIL vehicles speeding to leave the area while it was shot at. Some residents were visible filming the incident. Another showed the vehicle had rolled over after crashing into the aluminum shutters of a building, with a wounded peacekeeper on the on ground beside it.

Scuffles between southern Lebanon residents and UNIFIL troops are not uncommon. In January, unknown perpetuators attacked Irish peacekeepers in the southern town of Bint Jbeil, vandalizing their vehicles and stealing items. The residents accused them of taking photographs of residential homes, though the U.N. denied this.

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UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon. The U.N. expanded its mission following the 2006 war, allowing peacekeepers to deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border to help the Lebanese military extend their authority into their country’s south for the first time in decades. That resolution also called for a full cessation of Israeli-Hezbollah hostilities, which has not happened.