Premier makes unexpected UN troop visit to Lebanon

7th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero arrived on an unannounced visit to Lebanon Saturday.

7 January 2008

BEIRUT -  Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero arrived on an unannounced visit to Lebanon Saturday for a morale- boosting call on Spanish troops serving in the UN peacekeeping force.

"Your mission is to confront terrorism in this region, and it is something that you could encounter in attempts to establish peace," he told the peacekeepers in the southern Lebanese village of Blat.

"Our aim is to reach a comprehensive and just peace" he said during a ceremony at the Spanish contingent's headquarters.

"Peace in this region is directly linked to world peace, stability and the fight against terrorism which has been the cause of many crises around the world."

Spain has nearly 1,100 troops in southeastern Lebanon near the border with Israel as part of UNIFIL, which was boosted to more than 13,000 soldiers after the 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon's militant group Hezbollah.

Six members of the Spanish contingent were killed last year on 24 June when a booby-trapped car exploded as their patrol vehicle passed by. Unconfirmed reports said Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists were responsible.

Zapatero's visit came a few days after al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden issued a threat against the peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.

Security was heightened along all UNIFIL bases this week in anticipation of any security breaches shortly after Bin Laden's 56-minute recording.

In it, he criticised Hezbollah and its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, for allowing "crusader" troops from the United Nations into Lebanon after the 34-day conflict with Israel in 2006. "UNIFIL troops were deployed in 2006 to protect Jews" he said.

Zapatero, accompanied by his Defence Minister Jose Antonio Alonso, met earlier with his Lebanese counterpart Foaud Seniora before heading south aboard a helicopter.

Spain, alongside France and Italy, has been one of the leading countries trying to end Lebanon's long-standing political crisis.

Lebanon is facing the most critical situation since the 1975 civil war which wrecked the country for 15 years.

The Lebanese presidency has been vacant since Emile Lahoud ended his term on 23 November. The sharply divided Lebanese parliament has delayed the elections 11 times after the rival leaders failed to reach an agreement on how to solve the crisis.

[Copyright dpa 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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