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French Version

Israelis 'fired warning shots' near German ship

Vessel was outside lebanon's territorial waters

The German warship that tangled with Israeli fighter-bombers on Tuesday morning was "outside Lebanon's territorial waters" at the time of the incident, a spokesperson for the German military in Berlin said on Thursday.

"According to our information, at 10:11 a.m. Tuesday, six Israeli F-16s flew at a low level over the German warship," the German spokesperson said in a telephone interview with The Daily Star. "They fired several warning flares, the kind used [to defeat heat-seeking missiles], and one of the F-16s fired two shots from its gun [over the] top of the German ship, but it didn't hit the ship."

The spokesperson said that the warship "is part of the German contingent task force, which is currently dispatched in Lebanon," but it "was outside the Lebanese territorial waters," at the time of the incident.

"We don't give out the names or details of missions or coordinates of our ships," the spokesperson added.

A spokesperson from Germany's Naval Operations Command in Berlin told The Daily Star Thursday that the "incident is true, and we have sent investigators to check what happened on the ship."

A military source from the Lebanese Defense Ministry confirmed to The Daily Star Thursday that the German "warship was outside Lebanese territorial waters at the time of the incident."

The source added: "As long as the ship is outside our territorial waters, and it doesn't follow the marine force coordinating with the UNIFIL, then Lebanon is not concerned with the incident."

A security source close to UNIFIL in South Lebanon told The Daily Star Thursday that the German warship "was not flying the UN flag."

The source said the "Blue Helmets, [UNIFIL troops], didn't report any incident concerning them in this regard."

The German spokesperson said: "We are pretty sure and we strongly believe that the Israelis didn't have the intention to harm the ship. Our defense minister called the Israeli defense minister, who told him that the Israelis didn't fire on the German ship."

But that doesn't mean they didn't fire over the German ship, according to the spokesperson.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the German minister that the planes had to fire warning flares above the ship to determine the identity of the ship.

The German Defense Ministry on Thursday called for smooth cooperation between Israel and its ships patrolling the Lebanese coast after Tuesday's incident.

"The [defense] ministers have spoken to each other several times and discussed the incident," Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe told AFP.

"We hope that in the future everything will be smooth, that there will be good cooperation," he added.

Peretz had denied the reports and said that Israel wanted to increase its coordination with UNIFIL forces in preventative actions.

Germany assumed command of a UN naval force off Lebanon 12 days ago, and has sent eight ships and some 1,000 troops to join UNIFIL.

The naval force is charged with preventing the smuggling of weapons and helping maintain a cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah.

Peretz said earlier Wednesday that Israel's warplanes would continue to patrol Lebanese skies in an effort to gather information and prevent terror groups from smuggling weapons from Syria into Lebanon.

This came as the deputy commander of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon said Thursday after meeting senior Lebanese and Israeli officers that administrative issues were delaying the completion of Israel's pullout from its Lebanese territories.

Israel completed its withdrawal from all but one village in Southern Lebanon by early October. Its forces remain in the divided village of Ghajar, which straddles the border between Lebanon and Syrian territories occupied by Israel in the 1967.

"The meeting was productive and the main focus was to finalize arrangements for Ghajar after the Israeli Army's withdrawal," Brigadier General L.P. Nehra said in a statement after the talks on the border.

"Minor administrative issues with relation to Ghajar residents are still pending, UNIFIL hopes they will be solved at the next meeting early next week," the statement said. - With agencies, additional reporting by Mohammed Zaatari

Beirut 27-10-2006
Leila Hatoum
The Daily Star

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