BEIRUT — An Irish soldier on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon was killed while a second is in critical condition after their armored vehicle came under rare attack, Irish defense minister Simon Coveney said on Thursday.
The soldiers were part of a convoy of Irish United Nations peacekeeping forces in south Lebanon (UNIFIL) that was attacked late Wednesday night. Two armored utility vehicles came under small arms fire. The vehicles were carrying eight soldiers traveling to Beirut, through the village of al-Aqbieh outside UNIFIL’s area of operations in south Lebanon.
Coveney said a hostile mob carried the attack while the soldiers were on a routine UNIFIL tour.
“The two armoured vehicles effectively got separated. One of them got surrounded by a hostile mob, I think that’s the only way you could describe them, and shots were fired. Unfortunately, one of our peacekeepers was killed,” Coveney told RTE, the Irish national television.
It is with deep regret that Óglaigh na hÉireann can confirm the death of one of our peacekeepers in a serious incident in Lebanon last night.— Óglaigh na hÉireann (@defenceforces) December 15, 2022
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
"It is with deep regret that Oglaigh na hEireann [Irish defense forces] can confirm the death of one of our peacekeepers in a serious incident in Lebanon last night," a statement from the defense ministry said.
The UNIFIL announced that it is launching an investigation, and that its forces along with the Lebanese army have deployed at the scene
“We are coordinating with the Lebanese Armed Forces, and have launched an investigation to determine exactly what happened.”
Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group that has carried military operations and is heavily present in the South said it was not involved in the attack, Reuters reported. Lebanese Bassam Mawlawi, condemned the incident.
"Aggressions against peacekeeping forces will not pass without accountability. Preserving their safety is a duty based on our absolute belief in the importance of implementing international resolutions," he tweeted.
Why it matters: UNIFIL has been present in Lebanon since 1978, as part of a UN Security Council mandate that was renewed Aug. 31 for one year. The ten-thousand-troop force is located in the south of Lebanon; a blue line serves as a buffer zone between Lebanon and Israel, currently in a state of war. Attacks against UNIFIL patrols are not entirely a new phenomenon but they have been rare in the past.
Know more: UNIFIL works in close cooperation with the Lebanese army, which is also present in the area. Prior to the mandate’s renewal, UNIFIL could only patrol the area. This has now changed with the Security Council granting the peacekeeping mission more authority in carrying out operations independently. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah did not welcome this change and considered it a "violation of Lebanese sovereignty."