UN chief slams attack on UNIFIL as shooting videos emerge

U.N. chief Antonio Guterres has condemned the deadly attack on UNIFIL troops in south Lebanon, as online videos showed a UNIFIL vehicle coming under a hail of bullets in the area of the incident.

Cell phone videos circulated online have showed one of two UNIFIL vehicles speeding to leave the area while it was shot at in the southern town of al-Aqbiyeh. 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. The incident left one Irish peacekeeper dead and three others wounded. The 23-year-old peacekeeper died of a bullet to the head according to a Lebanese judicial official.

Al-Manar TV, run by Hezbollah, reported 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."

At the U.N. headquarters in New York ahead of a U.N. Security Council meeting, Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said 23-year-old Rooney was in one of the two armored vehicles left the Irish base camp for Beirut, each with four personnel.

"The vehicles, for whatever reason, got separated, and then one of the vehicles was surrounded by what I can only describe as a mob, who were very aggressive towards the vehicles," Coveney said. "Shots were fired, and unfortunately, one of our personnel lost his life" and three Irish soldiers were wounded.

"We will demand the truth in relation to what happened here," Coveney said, adding that he has spoken to Lebanese officials on Thursday and received assurances about fill cooperation in the investigation.

He said Ireland has participated in UNIFIL for decades and its last fatality was 20 years ago.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply saddened" by the peacekeeper's death, his spokesperson said.

He called for a "swift investigation by relevant authorities to determine the facts related to the incident and the need for accountability."

Confrontations 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, 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.

Source: Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Naharnet

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