Bomb wounds French peacekeepers in Lebanon

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A bomb struck a UN peacekeeping patrol in the Lebanese coastal town of Tyre on Friday, wounding five French soldiers, one of them severely, and two civilians, a security official and the army said.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the bomb was hidden under dirt on the side of the road and detonated as the soldiers drove through 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.

The French military said four sufferred very slight wounds while the fifth was more seriously injured in the face.

"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," Tenenti said.

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.

The army said the two civilians wounded were passers-by.

The office of Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, who is on an official visit to Armenia, issued a statement denouncing the attack, which he said was aimed at prompting France to pull its troops from the country.

"This terrorist attack is aimed at pressuring these troops to leave Lebanon and to pave the way for (further) terrorists acts," he said.

"Lebanon's security agencies will do everything to find and arrest those responsible for the explosion and to prevent the repeat of such tragedies in the future," he added.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati also condemned the attack as did French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe who vowed his country would not be intimidated.

"I condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly attack that was carried out against UNIFIL this morning, wounding five French peacekeepers," Juppe said in a statement.

France is "determined to continue its involvement with UNIFIL (and) will not be intimidated by such vile acts," he added.

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 stationed in the south of the country would be an easy target should the unrest reach Lebanon.

MP Marwan Hamadeh, a leading 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 has one of the largest contingents with 1,300 soldiers.

© 2011 AFP

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