UN peacekeepers vow to stay in Lebanon

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

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.

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.

But the UNIFIL bombing and the fighting in the north are hardly the only concern for Lebanese civilians, notes The New York Times.

In the past five weeks alone, since fighting began in the north between the army and militant Islamists holed up in the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp, at least seven bombs have exploded in Lebanon. Less than two weeks ago, one of those bombs killed an anti-Syrian lawmaker, his son and six others.
"From the north to the south, the whole country is now engaged, and the worst is to come," said Hilal Khashan, a political analyst in Beirut.

Al Jazeera's correspondent in Lebanon, Rula Amin, raised questions about how this would affect civilians' sense of security, asking, "If the attack was indeed the work of al-Qaeda inspired militants, are the targets going to be confined to Unifil or will there be civilian targets as well? Will the attacks be in the south or will they extend to the capital?"

UNIFIL draws its peacekeepers from 30 countries and was first deployed in Lebanon in 1978, according to the Associated Press. The report points out that Spain has 1,100 peacekeepers in Lebanon, roughly 8 percent of UNIFIL's 13,000-member force.

The attack, the first since UNIFIL was reinforced following last year's war, came as the U.N. has become increasingly involved in highly divisive issues in Lebanon, including its tense relations with neighboring Syria. U.N. resolutions have dealt with Lebanon's borders with Israel and Syria, Palestinian guerrillas and Hezbollah weapons, as well as an international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Following the attacks, Sir Mark Malloch-Brown, a former United Nations deputy secretary-general, gave a speech in which he said that the Iraq war had made the UN and other humanitarian aid organizations targets. The Independent, a British newspaper, reports that Sir Malloch-Brown argued that the Iraq war had harmed humanitarian intervention efforts.

In a speech in London tonight, Sir Mark Malloch-Brown will say: "The brutal truth is politics is making it harder and harder to serve victims' needs by reaching them with assistance or bearing witness to their suffering and thereby staying the hand of those who would harm them."

Speaking about Sudanese President General Omar al-Bashir's rejection of US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's request to install UN forces in Darfur because of their role in the Iraq war, Malloch-Brown said, "I have watched the work I used to do get steadily more dangerous as it is seen as serving Western interests rather than universal values."

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