Lebanon road bomb wounds French peacekeepers

AFP , Friday 9 Dec 2011

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati denounces the attack on a UNIFIL peacekeeping vehicle in the coastal town of Tyre that injured five French soldiers and a civilian

Wounded French U.N. peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) are seen after receiving treatment near the site where a bomb exploded on the outskirts of the city of Tyre, southern Lebanon December 9, 2011. The bomb exploded near a UNIFIL peacekeeping patrol on Friday, wounding five French soldiers in southern Lebanon, a witness and security sources said. (Photo:Reuters)

A powerful bomb struck a UN peacekeeping vehicle in the Lebanese coastal town of Tyre on Friday, wounding five French soldiers and a civilian, a security official said.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the bomb was hidden under dirt on the side of the road and detonated as the soldiers were driving by in a 4X4 at an intersection on the town's southern outskirts.

Andrea Tenenti, spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), told AFP that the five wounded soldiers were treated at the scene and later taken to hospital.

"A UNIFIL forensics team is at the site (of the blast) and working in cooperation with their Lebanese counterparts to determine the facts and circumstances," said Tenenti.

An AFP correspondent in Tyre saw three peacekeepers -- a woman and two men -- standing by their badly damaged white vehicle with bandages on their heads.

One of them had a bloodied face. It was unclear how badly injured the Lebanese civilian was.

The blast left a one-metre (three-foot) deep crater.

Security forces and UNIFIL troops cordoned off the area as hundreds of onlookers gathered nearby.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati immediately denounced the attack while stating his solidarity with UNIFIL.

"Such attacks don't only target UNIFIL but also Lebanon's stability and security," Mikati said in a statement.

UNIFIL patrols have been the target of a string of unclaimed roadside bomb attacks in recent years, including two in 2011.

In July, six French UNIFIL troops were wounded, one of them seriously, in a similar attack as Friday's in the southern coastal town of Sidon.

And in May, six Italian peacekeepers were wounded in Sidon, also in a roadside bombing.

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

Friday's blast took place amid heightened tension over the bloody uprising in neighbouring Syria, with politicians and diplomats warning the unrest could spill over into Lebanon, whose government is dominated by the pro-Syrian militant group Hezbollah.

There have been constant fears that the UNIFIL force, which is stationed in the south of the country, would be an easy target should the unrest reach Lebanon.

MP Marwan Hamadeh, a member of the Western-backed opposition in Lebanon, blamed Damascus for Friday's attack, saying it was orchestrated with the help of its ally Hezbollah.

"It is clear that Syria was behind what happened today and the messenger was Hezbollah," he told AFP. "Nothing happens in that region without Hezbollah's approval."

He added the fact that the blast took place near a Palestinian refugee camp was only aimed at sowing confusion.

"The Syrians have accused France of being at the forefront of what they believe is a foreign plot to destabilise their country and everyone felt that something was bound to happen," Hamadeh said.

A Hezbollah official, contacted by AFP, had no immediate comment.

Spain currently commands the 12,100-strong UNIFIL force, which was founded in 1978 and expanded after a devastating 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

France forms the largest contingent with 1,300 soldiers.

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