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UN peacekeepers vow to stay in Lebanon

An attack that killed six prompts Lebanon's government to appeal for outside help.

By / June 25, 2007

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said that it was committed to staying in the country following a bombing on Sunday that left six UN peacekeepers dead and raised concerns that violence may spread in the embattled country.

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The vehicle-borne explosive targeted a Spanish battalion, killing three Spaniards and three Colombians. It is the first time UNIFIL has been attacked since the 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah militants last summer.

Reuters reports that the bombing has created yet another challenge for the Western-backed government in Beirut. UNIFIL officials view the attack as an act "against stability."

"It's not an attack against Lebanon and UNIFIL only, but against the stability of the region. This attack has made UNIFIL more committed to fulfil its mission in southern Lebanon," Major-General Claudio Graziano, who commands the 13,000-strong U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, said in a statement.

The bombing took place in the south, a Hizbullah stronghold. The Islamic party has denied any connection to the operation and condemned those who carried out the attack, reports Lebanon's The Daily Star.

"Hizbullah vigorously condemns the attack [and] considers it a suspicious act which hurts Lebanon and its inhabitants," the group's Al-Manar television reported. "The attack hurts the people of the South and of Lebanon," the statement added.

Residents of Khiyam, where the bombing took place, reacted strongly. The German Press Agency, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, spoke with locals upset by the attack.

"Those peacekeepers came to impose peace in this area and protect us from the Israeli shelling," said local resident Siham Mussa.
"They are very polite and friendly," she said of the UNIFIL forces. "They wave at our kids when they pass through the area."

No one has yet taken responsibility for the bombing. During the past month, Lebanese forces in the north of the country have clashed with the Al Qaeda-inspired group Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli. The BBC reports that the group had made earlier threats against UNIFIL.

The Lebanese authorities said that militants from the Fatah al-Islam group who were arrested and interrogated confessed that there was a plan to attack the UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.

Given an already tenuous security situation, the Los Angeles Times reports that this most recent act of aggression may cause fighting to mushroom beyond the refugee camp.

The attack, which took place on a day when the Lebanese military fought a bloody battle against Sunni Muslim radicals in the north, heightened fears that a second front may have opened in the fight here against militants linked to Al Qaeda.
The attacks on opposite ends of the country could stretch the Lebanese army further and weaken a country already beset by sectarian tension, political stalemate and a worsening economic crisis.