UN ‘blue helmet’ killed near site of Lebanon-Israel cross-fire; investigation under way

UNIFIL peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. Photo: UNIFIL/Pasqual Gorriz

28 January 2015 – Amid what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described as a “serious deterioration of the security situation in Southern Lebanon,” the United Nations Interim Force there (UNIFIL) has launched an investigation into the death of a peacekeeper today near the border with Israel, according to a statement released by the Mission.

The precise cause of the peacekeeper’s death remains undetermined. However, the UN has noted that Hizbollah has claimed responsibility for a subsequent rocket attack on an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) patrol that killed two Israeli soldiers and injured others.

“At around 11:30 a.m. this morning, UNIFIL observed six rockets launched towards Israel from the vicinity of Wazzani north of Maysat in the UNIFIL area of operations,” the peacekeeping operation said in a statement. “The IDF returned artillery fire in the same general area.”

“During the course of the developments, a UNIFIL peacekeeper deployed at a UN position near Ghajar sustained serious injuries that resulted in his death,” according to UNIFIL. “The precise cause of death is as yet undetermined and remains the subject of investigation.”

In a statement issued by his spokesperson in New York, the Secretary-General deeply regretted the death of the UNIFIL peacekeeper and condemned all violence. He called for maximum calm and restraint, the preservation of stability of the area and said all parties should act responsibly to prevent any escalation in an already tense regional environment.

That statement also said that a rocket attack on an IDF patrol killed two IDF soldiers and injured others; the attack was claimed by Hizbollah. The Israel Defense Forces retaliated.

“The Secretary-General is also concerned about violations of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Syria,” the statement said. “Rockets were fired yesterday, 27 January 2015, from the area of limitation on the Bravo side across the ceasefire line and the Israel Defense Forces responded with artillery fire and later an airstrike.”

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, echoed the Secretary-General’s deep concern over the serious deterioration of the security situation in South Lebanon following the exchange of fire. She urgently called on all parties to refrain from any actions that could destabilize the situation further.

Ms. Kaag strongly urged all parties to continue to abide by their obligations under Security Council resolution 1701, which called for the full cessation of hostilities in the month-long 2006 war between Israel and Hizbollah in Lebanon.

UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major-General Luciano Portolano was in immediate contact with the parties to help control the situation and prevent further escalation, it said.

The Force Commander has strongly condemned this serious violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701. He is maintaining continuous contacts with the parties and has urged both sides to exercise utmost restraint.

UNIFIL has launched an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances of the incident.

UNIFIL also reported that at around 1:30 p.m. today, five rockets were fired from the general area of Kafer Shouba towards Israel, and the IDF fired artillery rounds towards the source of fire. UNIFIL said it has been informed by the IDF that they incurred casualties as a result of fire from the Lebanese side.

The 10,000-strong UN peacekeeping operation in Lebanon has further reinforced its presence on the ground and intensified patrols across the area of operations in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces.

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