BEIRUT: A roadside bomb blew up a U.N. vehicle on a highway leading to the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon Friday, wounding six Italian peacekeepers, two seriously, security sources told The Daily Star.
Italian military chief of staff spokesman Massimo Fogari denied earlier reports that an Italian soldier had died in the attack.
The six wounded soldiers were transported to Hammoud hospital in Sidon. Two Lebanese civilians, Tannous Tanious and Amine Dawoud, who were standing about 50 meters away from the location of the blast were also slightly wounded, a security source said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
"There were six peacekeepers wounded. One with a serious injury and the rest have moderate injuries. They are all at the hospital," UNIFIL spokesperson Neeraj Singh told The Daily Star.
"Our teams are on their way [to the location]."
The UNIFIL peacekeeping force is deployed in southern Lebanon to monitor the border with Israel.
Lebanese leaders strongly condemned the attack, with President Michel Sleiman describing it as a criminal act meant to destabilize the
country. "This criminal act aims at threatening the country's security and stability," he said said in a statement.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri also voiced his concern over the attack. "We are condemning this terrorist crime, as we offer our condolences to
the UNIFIL leadership and especially the Italian unit, hoping for the
speedy recovery of those wounded," Berri said in the statement, adding
that Lebanon's state of political paralysis threatens the country's
security and spreads chaos.
Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri warned of any attempts
to use Lebanese territory “to send messages to the international
community and specifically to UNIFIL in south Lebanon.”
“We hope that the international forces resume their work according to
[United Nations Security Council Resolution] 1701. The Lebanese
government considers [the resolution] a basic rule for preserving
stability and preventing violence in the area," Hariri said in a
Resolution 1701 was drafted to end the 2006 war between Lebanon and
Israel. The UNIFIL peacekeeping presence was beefed up in the wake of
the conflict and is mandated with maintaining a cessation of
hostilities, as well as monitoring the implementation of 1701.
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati condemned the attack, praising the U.N. for preserving stability and security in south Lebanon.
Mikati's remarks came during a telephone conversation with U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams, a statement from his press office said.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini expressed his deepest sympathy after hearing news of the casualties and expressed the country's support for its military.
"We are making a crucial contribution to stability in one of the most sensitive areas in the Middle East region," Frattini was quoted by Italian news agency ANSA.
Security sources said Judge Dany Zaanni was tasked to oversee the investigation. The blast blew away 1.2 meter of the concrete wall where the bomb was placed and left a 50 centimeter deep hole in the ground.
Italy has 2,000 soldiers in the UNIFIL force – the largest contingent of foreign troops in Lebanon.
UNIFIL has about 12,000 troops and naval personnel in Lebanon after its expansion under a U.N. Security Council resolution that halted the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in southern Lebanon.
The attack came few hours after UNIFIL commemorated the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, remembering colleagues who lost their lives in the line of duty and celebrating their contributions to peace.
A ceremony was held earlier Friday at UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura to mark the international day that is observed every year on 29 May.
Peacekeepers representing UNIFIL’s 35 different national contingents were joined by local authorities, officers of the Lebanese armed and security forces and diplomatic representatives.
UNIFIL Acting Force Commander Brigadier-General Santi Bonfanti, and Brigadier General Emile Salloum representing the Lebanese Armed Forces Commander, laid wreaths at the UNIFIL Cenotaph in honor of the peacekeepers who lost their lives in the service of peace. A minute of silence was observed.
There have been 292 fatalities of peacekeepers serving with UNIFIL since its establishment in 1978.
“I pay tribute to you all peacekeepers – men and women, civilian and military, who serve selflessly, tirelessly and courageously in UNIFIL every day. Your work is a source of pride for the United Nations every day of the year,”Bonfanti said at the ceremony.
The attack was the first was since January 2008, when a roadside bomb struck a U.N. vehicle traveling along the same coastal highway, lightly wounding two peacekeepers.
The deadliest recent attack was in June 2007, when six Spanish peacekeepers died after a bomb hit their armored personnel carrier near the Israeli border.