AQIBYA, Lebanon: An Irish member of the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon was killed and three were wounded after their convoy came under fire, UN and Irish sources said Thursday.
“A convoy of two armoured utility vehicles carrying eight personnel travelling to Beirut came under small arms fire” late Wednesday, the Irish military said.
“Four personnel were taken to Raee Hospital, near Sidon as a result of the (2115 GMT) incident,” the military said.
“One soldier was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital and another has undergone surgery and is in a serious condition. The other two soldiers are being treated for minor injuries.”
“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.
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.
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 UN denied this.
UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL said the “incident” happened near the village of Al Aqbiya, just outside the force’s area of operations in a strip along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.
It said it had opened an investigation.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney expressed “profound sadness and a deep sense of shock” over the peacekeeper’s death.
The UN force has been present in south Lebanon since 1978 when they first deployed after Israel occupied a border strip on the Lebanese side.
Now boasting nearly 10,000 troops, the UN force acts as a buffer between Israel and Lebanon, which remain technically at war.
Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000 but fought a devastating 2006 war with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its allies.
Over the years there have been a number of incidents between Hezbollah supporters and the UN force in border areas loyal to the Iran-backed group.