Incidents have been avoided only because of French military restraint, General Alain Pellegrini said in an interview on the internet site of the French conservative daily Le Figaro on Friday.

"I call on Israel to end them," he said of the flights over southern Lebanon, where UN peacekeepers and Lebanese troops have been stationed since the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah.

"I have a hard time understanding them ... This is dangerous.

"The overflights "could give the Hezbollah an occasion to react."

'Restraint'

Asked if he excluded use of force against either party in the conflict, Pellegrini said: "No. I don't exclude it."

The French government demanded that Israel stop the raids after French peacekeepers came within seconds of shooting down Israeli warplanes less than two weeks ago. Michele Alliot-Marie, the defence minister, said a near-catastrophe was avoided.

"They want to see our activities on the ground and at sea. They don't trust us"

General Alain Pellegrini,
head of the French-led UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon

"At the end of October, we just escaped an incident when French soldiers felt threatened," Pellegrini reportedly said. "They have to assure their self-defence."

"There is a difference between the overflight of a plane at 5,000 metres altitude and an aircraft that goes into a quasi-attack configuration.

"If we avoided an incident, it's because the French military showed great restraint and sang-froid."

On October 31, Israeli F-15 fighter planes nose-dived repeatedly over French peacekeepers' positions in southern Lebanon, the French defence minister said on Wednesday.

'Monitoring'

Israeli officials said the flights were needed to monitor Lebanese compliance with UN demands, and said they were working with the UN peacekeeping force to avoid misunderstandings.

More French troops are to arrive
this month or early December

Pellegrini had another version.

"They want to see our activities on the ground and at sea. They don't trust us," he said, according to Le Figaro.

He also said, however, that Israel "told us they will continue over flights as long as they haven't recovered their two soldiers kidnapped by the Hezbollah."

The soldiers' kidnapping sparked the summer war between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah fighters.

Pellegrini said it also appeared that Israel "has information on arms deliveries to Hezbollah via the Syrian-Lebanese border.

"As long as these arms passages continue, they tell us, they will over fly Lebanon."