6 Italian Peacekeepers Hurt in Blast Targeting UNIFIL near Sidon

Six Italian peacekeepers were wounded -- two of them seriously -- along with two civilians on Friday in a roadside bomb explosion targeting a U.N. patrol along a highway near the Lebanese southern city of Sidon, officials said.

"There was an explosion late afternoon that targeted a U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) logistics convoy along the main highway near Sidon," UNIFIL spokesman Neeraj Singh told Agence France Presse.

He said two civilians and six UNIFIL peacekeepers were injured.

"UNIFIL's forensics and investigation teams are at the location and are working in close cooperation with their counterparts in the Lebanese army to determine all the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident," Singh said.

Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa confirmed to reporters in Milan that six of his country's troops in Lebanon were injured, including two who were in critical condition.

"Of the two who were gravely wounded, one risks losing his eye while the other suffered a laceration of his carotid artery and has already been operated" on, La Russa told reporters in Milan.

The incident came two days before the United Nations marks Peacekeepers Day.

An earlier report from Italian news agency ANSA citing defense ministry sources had said that one soldier was killed in the blast.

"We are close to the families of the injured and to our lads involved in a peacekeeping mission," Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy was "intent" on reducing its presence in Lebanon which currently numbers nearly 1,800 Italian soldiers.

"It's obvious that this is a decision that will be communicated in a U.N. context because this is not an Italian mission, it's a U.N. mission," he said.

The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), a multinational force which currently has 12,000 troops stationed in south Lebanon, was initially set up to monitor Lebanon's border with Israel.

It was expanded after a devastating 2006 war between the Jewish state and Hizbullah.

Earlier in the day, UNIFIL held a ceremony at its headquarters in the southern village of Naqoura close to the Israeli border to honor 292 peacekeepers killed since the force was established in 1978.

The force has been the target of three other unclaimed attacks, the latest in January 2008 when two Irish officers were wounded by a roadside bomb.

In the deadliest incident, three Spanish and three Colombian peacekeepers were killed in June of 2007 when a booby-trapped car exploded as their patrol vehicle drove by.

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