Five French UN soldiers wounded in Lebanon blast

26th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Five French soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon were wounded on Tuesday, one seriously, in a roadside bomb attack in the southern city of Sidon, a UN official told AFP.

"According to preliminary reports, at around 6:00 pm today (1500 GMT) an explosion targeted a UNIFIL convoy along the highway at Sidon," said Neeraj Singh, spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

"Five UNIFIL peacekeepers were injured in the explosion. Three of the injured were transported to hospital for treatment."

One of the soldiers taken to hospital was in serious condition with burns to his face and shrapnel in one eye, an official at Hammoud Hospital in Sidon told AFP.

The second soldier was slightly wounded in his left eye, the official added, asking not to be named. The third soldier was released and sent back to base, he said.

An army spokesman told AFP the bomb had been placed on the side of the road and was triggered as the peacekeepers' convoy reached the southern entrance of Sidon.

The front of the troop carrier bore the brunt of the blast and was badly damaged, with several parts blown 20 to 30 metres (yards) away.

Several French peacekeepers could be seen covered in dust near the site of the explosion.

UNIFIL forensic experts rushed to the scene along with Lebanese troops, who cordoned off the area and began gathering evidence.

"We are working in coordination with the Lebanese army to determine the circumstances of the incident," Singh said.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati denounced the attack as immoral, and said he had asked for a speedy probe to determine who was behind it.

He also contacted the French ambassador to express support, his office said.

In May, six Italian peacekeepers were wounded in Sidon in a similar roadside bombing.

Nobody claimed responsibility for that attack, which targeted a UNIFIL jeep on the main highway linking the capital to south Lebanon, where the 12,000-strong force is deployed.

Spain currently commands UNIFIL, which was founded in 1978 and is tasked with overseeing a fragile peace along Lebanon's southern border with Israel.

After Italy, France forms the largest contingent with 1,600 soldiers. It is followed by Spain, with 1,100.

UNIFIL was expanded after a devastating 2006 war between the Jewish state and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

The force has been the target of three other unclaimed attacks.

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

Tuesday's blast took place shortly before Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was due to give a televised speech commemorating the end of the 2006 war.

© 2011 AFP

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