Iran-Backed Hezbollah Suspected in Death of Soldier on U.N. Duty, Irish Minister Says

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 – Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati said on Friday that those responsible for the killing of an Irish soldier on a U.N. peacekeeping mission two days ago “will be punished.”

One soldier was shot and killed late on Wednesday and a second was in a critical condition after a hostile crowd surrounded their armoured vehicle in Lebanon’s south, Ireland’s defence minister said on Thursday.

Southern Lebanon is a stronghold for Hezbollah, a powerful armed group and a heavyweight political party backed by Iran. The party has denied a role in the violence, saying it was an “unintentional incident” between residents and the U.N. forces.

However, Ireland’s foreign and defence minister Simon Coveney told state broadcaster RTE that he did not accept Hezbollah’s assurances that it had no involvement.

“We don’t accept any assurances until we have a full investigation concluded to establish the full truth,” he said.

Coveney said two vehicles belonging to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and travelling through south Lebanon got separated before the shots were fired.

He had earlier cited “some tension on the ground between Hezbollah forces and UNIFIL in recent months”, but said the killing was “unexpected.”

The caretaker prime minister said the investigations into the incident were on, while Lebanon’s foreign ministry late on Thursday said Coveney had offered to send an Irish delegation to help the probe.

Mikati and Lebanon’s army commander were at the southern Lebanon headquarters of the UNIFIL on Friday to pay their respects. He said Lebanon remained committed to a 2006 U.N. resolution that expanded the peacekeeping mission’s presence.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut, writing by Ahmad Ghaddar in Dubai and Maya Gebeily in Beirut; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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