Bomb wounds French UN peacekeepers in South Lebanon

A roadside bomb wounded five French peacekeepers in southern Lebanon on Friday, in the third attack this year on United Nations forces deployed near the frontier with Israel.

The blast hit a jeep carrying French UNIFIL troops on the outskirts of the Mediterranean port city of Tyre.

“I can confirm that a UNIFIL vehicle was hit by an explosion in Tyre,” UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said. “Five peacekeepers were injured.”

The attack follows bombings in May and July against French and Italian peacekeepers and comes as the United Nations prepares a review of its 12,000-strong operation, which was beefed up after Israel’s 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006.

A Reuters reporter saw a jeep with its windows blown out and several wounded peacekeepers at the scene minutes after the explosion in the Burj al-Shamali district on the eastern edge of Tyre.

Most of the injuries were light but medical sources said one of the UNIFIL soldiers was badly wounded.

Security sources said two passersby were also hurt.

Italy reduced its contribution to UNIFIL to 1,100 soldiers from 1,800 after six of its peacekeepers were wounded in May, although diplomats said the decision to cut its contingent had been taken before the attack.

Two months later six French soldiers were wounded in another attack.

“DISGRACEFUL” ATTACK

Tenenti said Friday’s bombing would “not divert us from our task” and Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati also said the peacekeepers would continue their mission.

“Lebanon considers these attacks as targeting its own security and stability, not only UNIFIL,” Mikati said. “These attacks will not have an influence on UNIFIL’s work in the south, nor on the French contingent.”

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France would “not be intimidated by such disgraceful acts”, urging Lebanon to bring the perpetrators to justice and ensure the safety and freedom of movement of U.N. forces.

UNIFIL has about 12,000 troops and naval personnel in Lebanon after its expansion under U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 that halted the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in southern Lebanon.

It operates alongside 15,000 Lebanese army troops who are deployed in the south of the country to keep peace near the border with Israel and prevent weapons transfers in an area that is a stronghold of Hezbollah guerrillas.

The U.N. Security Council called in August for a review of UNIFIL operations in Lebanon by the end of the year, aimed partly at assessing whether the Lebanese army could assume greater role in operations. Diplomats say the results of the review are unlikely to be issued for several months.

The border area has remained relatively quiet since 2006, although 10 Palestinian demonstrators were killed in May after Israeli troops opened fire on a protest on the Lebanese side of the border, the Lebanese army and security sources said.

Last year a senior Israeli officer, two Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist were killed when Lebanese and Israeli troops clashed at the border.

Photo: An Italian military expert, part of the U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, inspects a damaged U.N. vehicle on the outskirts of the city of Tyre, southern Lebanon December 9, 2011.

Reuters