Tue, Jan 11, 2005 - Page 6 News List

French officer killed in Lebanon

CASUALTYTwo other UN staff were injured by shelling from the Israeli side of the border, in retaliation for a Hezbollah bomb attack that left one Israeli soldier dead

AP , BEIRUT, LEBANON

Israeli army officer Inbal Peretz, girlfriend of Israeli Lieutenant Sharon Elmakayis, 23, cries in Atlit shortly after learning that he was killed in an attack by the Shiite militia Hezbollah on the northern border with Lebanon on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

A French officer serving with the UN was killed and a Swedish officer and a Lebanese man were wounded by Israeli shelling Sunday shortly after a Hezbollah bomb attack killed an Israeli soldier near the border in southern Lebanon, Lebanese and UN officials said.

Hezbollah also said one of its guerrillas was killed in fighting with Israeli troops.

Milos Struger, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon known as UNIFIL, said a French officer was "killed by shelling from the Israeli side of the Blue Line," the border line drawn by UN troops following Israel's withdrawal from a border zone in south Lebanon in 2000.

A Swedish officer was also wounded by the Israeli shelling, Struger said in a statement issued at the UNIFIL headquarters in the Lebanese border town of Naqoura.

"UNIFIL has opened an investigation into the tragic incident," he said.

A senior Israeli military official who investigated the incident said the death of the peacekeeper "apparently is the result of our tank fire."

"My impression is that there was no way of knowing that these were UN soldiers," he told reporters in Jerusalem. "They were in uniform but had no identifying signs to show that they were from the UN and were very close to the area where the incident occurred."

But Struger said the UN soldiers were "on duty, on patrol in a clearly marked vehicle" when the incident began.

UN officers travel in white vehicles, with the UN initials in black text on the sides. Struger would not speculate on the circumstances that led to the death of the officer pending the conclusion of the official investigation.

Struger said the officers worked for the UN Observer Group Lebanon, a UN agency that monitors the 1948 Armistice Agreement between Lebanon and Israel.

There are some 200 French soldiers serving with the 2,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, which has been working to maintain peace along the UN-drawn boundary between Israel and Lebanon since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

The violence began when Hezbollah guerrillas detonated a roadside bomb that destroyed an Israeli military vehicle near the border in southern Lebanon, killing an Israeli soldier and wounding three others, Lebanese security officials said.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli military confirmed an officer was killed in the bombing. It did not give his name or rank.

Sheik Nabil Kaouk, Hezbollah commander in southern Lebanon, said in an interview with the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite channel that the Israeli officer was a commander of the military post targeted by Hezbollah guerrillas inside the disputed Chebaa Farms.

Hezbollah said in a statement broadcast by its Al Manar television late Sunday that one of its guerrillas, Ahmed Ibrahim Salameh, 30, was killed in fighting with Israeli troops.

In an earlier statement, Hezbollah said the 11:50am bomb attack targeted an Israeli patrol on the road to the Zebddine post. It said the attack was "within the framework of [Hezbollah's] struggle to liberate the remainder of Lebanese lands under [Israeli] occupation in the Chebaa Farms area."

An Israeli military spokeswoman said Israel responded with an air force strike on three unidentified Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

Lebanese officials said Israeli warplanes fired missiles twice at Hezbollah's Tal el-Hamamseh observation post near the Israeli town of Metullah, 11km west of the attack area, and shelled another position at Rweisat.

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