Irish United Nations peacekeeper killed and several wounded after attackers opened fire in Lebanon
An Irish U.N. peacekeeper was killed and several others were 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 that a pair of armored vehicles carrying eight Irish UNIFIL peacekeeping troops was fired on as they drove north, toward Beirut on Wednesday night from the town of Al-Aqbiya.
The Irish military identified the killed peacekeeper as Pvt. Seán Rooney of Newtwoncunningham. It noted that one of the three wounded soldiers was 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 Lebanese military and trying to “determine exactly what happened.”
A person 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.
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 person said.
It is not yet clear if the victim died from gunfire or from wounds sustained in the crash, the person added.
Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry condemned the incident, while the office of Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati issued a statement calling for an investigation.
Mikati “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 statemen 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 show one of the two UNIFIL vehicles speeding to leave the area while it was shot at. Some residents were visible filming the incident. Another video showed the vehicle had rolled over after crashing into the aluminum shutters of a building, with a wounded peacekeeper on the ground beside it.
Al-Manar TV, run by Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group, claimed that a UNIFIL vehicle had “run over” a group of residents who had gathered to watch the World Cup semi-final match between Morocco and France. A Hezbollah spokesperson contacted by The Associated Press declined to comment on peacekeeper’s death “until we have all the data.”
Scuffles between residents in southern Lebanon and UNIFIL troops are not uncommon. In January, unknown perpetrators 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. mission denied this.
UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after a 1978 invasion. The U.N. expanded its mission following the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah group, allowing peacekeepers to deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border to help the Lebanese military extend its authority into the 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.