UN peacekeepers in Lebanon say patrol hit by Israeli fire

United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon condemns attack as ‘deeply troubling’, no troops were injured.

Smoke billows following Israeli shelling on the outskirts of Lebanon's southern village of Tayr Harfa near the border with Israel on November 18, 2023 [File: AFP]

The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon has said that Israeli fire hit one of its patrols in the country’s south, despite a truce between Israel and Hamas largely quietening the Lebanon-Israel frontier.

“At around 12:00 pm, a UNIFIL patrol was hit by [Israeli army] gunfire” in the vicinity of Aitarun, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said in a statement on Saturday.

“No peacekeepers were injured, but the vehicle was damaged,” it said, adding that “this incident occurred during a period of relative calm” along the border between Israel and Lebanon.

Since the Israel-Palestine conflict began on October 7, the frontier between Lebanon and Israel has seen intensifying exchanges of fire, mainly between Israel and Shia movement Hezbollah, but also Palestinian groups, raising fears of a broader conflagration.

The scope of the border fighting has gradually increased over the weeks, but it has not turned into an all-out war yet. At first, the two sides started hitting each other with artillery attacks, and Israel also brought in its drones.

A four-day truce between Israel and Hamas began on Friday, and a source close to Hezbollah told the AFP news agency that the Iran-backed group would also adhere to the truce if Israel did.

UNIFIL said “this attack on peacekeepers, dedicated to reducing tensions and restoring stability in south Lebanon, is deeply troubling,” adding, “we condemn this act.”

Last month, shelling lightly wounded a UN peacekeeper near the border village of Hula, just hours after UNIFIL said a shell hit its headquarters in Naqura near the Israel-Lebanon border.

The force said it was investigating those incidents.

“We strongly remind the parties of their obligations to protect peacekeepers and avoid putting the men and women who are working to restore stability at risk,” Saturday’s UNIFIL statement said.

Cross-border fire has killed 109 people in Lebanon, including 77 Hezbollah fighters and 14 civilians, three of them journalists, according to an AFP count.

Six Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed on the Israeli side, according to the authorities.

Even as many Lebanese may feel for the plight of Palestinians, they also fear getting entangled in a new conflict, many having already experienced the 2006 war in which more than 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon, many of them civilians. At least 165 Israelis were also killed.

Since the pause went into effect on Friday, calm has largely returned to Lebanon’s southern border.

UNIFIL was set up in 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces after they invaded Lebanon in reprisal for a Palestinian attack.

It was bolstered after the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006, and its roughly 10,000 peacekeepers are tasked with monitoring the ceasefire between the two sides.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies