French UN troops wounded in Lebanon blast

Three soldiers wounded in roadside bomb attack in southern city of Sidon.

    Two UN soldiers were taken to hospital, one of them in serious condition with burns to the face [Reuters]

    Three French soldiers serving with the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon were wounded in a roadside bomb attack in the southern city of Sidon, security officials said.

    "The blast took place as their vehicle was travelling along the coastal road, near the southern entrance of the city," the official, who did not wish to be identified, said.

    An AFP news agency correspondent at the scene said the soldiers sustained wounds to their face and hands.

    The wounded were taken to hospital, one of them in serious condition with burns to the face and shrapnel in one eye, a statement from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said.

    The second soldier was slightly wounded in his left eye, an official at Hammoud Hospital in Sidon said, and the third was released after treatment and sent back to base.

    An army spokesman said the bomb was placed on the side of the road and was triggered as the peacekeepers' vehicle - a troop carrier - drove by.

    The troop carrier was fourth in a convoy of UN vehicles travelling in the area, Lebanese television reported.

    The front of the vehicle was badly damaged and several parts were blown 20 to 30 metres by the force of the blast.

    Several French peacekeepers could be seen covered in dust near the site of the explosion, which was heard throughout Sidon, the main city in southern Lebanon.

    Members of the French contingent of UNIFIL rushed to the site along with Lebanese troops, who cordoned off the area and began gathering evidence.

    "We are working in coordination with the Lebanese army to determine the circumstances of the incident," Neeraj Singh, a UNIFIL spokesman told AFP.

    Najib Mikati, the Lebanese prime minister, denounced the attack as immoral and said he had asked for a quick probe to determine who carried it out.He also contacted the French ambassador to express support, his office said.

    In May, six Italian peacekeepers were wounded in Sidon in a similar roadside bombing.

    Nobody claimed responsibility for that attack, which targeted a UNIFIL jeep on the main highway linking the capital to south Lebanon, where the 12,000-strong force is deployed.

    Spain currently holds command of UNIFIL, which was founded in 1978 and is tasked with overseeing a fragile peace along the southern border with Israel.

    After Italy, France forms the largest contingent, with 1,600 soldiers. It is followed by Spain, with 1,100.

    UNIFIL was initially set up to monitor Lebanon's border with Israel but expanded after the devastating 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon.

    The force has been the target of three other unclaimed attacks. In the worst one, three Spanish and three Colombian peacekeepers were killed in June 2007 when a booby-trapped car exploded as their patrol vehicle drove by.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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