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French Version

Spain voices resolve to fulfill UNIFIL mission

Defense minister arrives in Lebanon to collect remains of fallen peacekeepers

Spanish Defense Minister Jose Antonio Alonso arrived in Lebanon on Monday and condemned Sunday's attack on the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which left six of his country's soldiers dead and two wounded.

"This great loss is due to a terrorist attack on my country, as they serve in UNIFIL," said Alonso as he arrived in Lebanon. "This attack targets UN Resolution 1701 and the role of the international force."

The explosion, which took place near the Southern town of Khiam, occurred in the afternoon as Spanish UNIFIL members patrolled the area. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on UN troops in Lebanon since an Israeli air strike killed four peacekeepers in Khiam during the summer 2006 war.

"This attack has made UNIFIL more committed to fulfill its mission in Southern Lebanon," said General Claudio Graziano, commander of the almost 13,000-strong UNIFIL force. The road where the bombing took place had been under reconstruction with help from the Spanish government, following damage inflicted during last summer's war.

"The terrorist attack against the Spanish contingent made UNIFIL more aware of the possible dangers that it could encounter," said Denis Piojo, the military spokesman for the French contingent. "However, [UNIFIL] will continue to provide peace in South Lebanon, in order to implement UN Resolution 1701."

On Monday, UNIFIL stepped up security measures, keeping its troops within the "Yellow Area" and requiring soldiers to wear bulletproof vests and helmets. It also increased its patrols, conducted numerous flights, and tightened security measures around its headquarters. The Lebanese Army also increased its security presence by erecting numerous checkpoints on main and side roads in the area.

Israelis forces were also seen conducting numerous patrols along the border Sunday night.

The Lebanese Army closed the road leading to the explosion site in order to conduct an investigation. The engineering unit of the Lebanese Army is cooperating with experts from UNIFIL to gather evidence.

Alonso flew to Lebanon to collect the bodies of the soldiers killed by the bomb. He attended a religious ceremony for the slain soldiers at the Spanish base in Marjayoun. His helicopter circled three times over the bomb scene, witnesses said. The ceremony was also attended by Graziano, the ambassadors of Spain and Colombia, a representative of the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL's Sector East commander, Brig. General Ramon Martin-Ambrosio Merino of the Spanish Army. Officers and troops of the Spanish contingent, as well as representatives of other UNIFIL contingents, were also in attendance.

Lebanese Army commander General Michel Suleiman also inspected the site and met with the Spanish contingent to offer his condolences for those killed.

Suleiman urged the Lebanese Army to be on alert, especially after the UNIFIL bombing, which he said aimed to undermine Lebanese unity. "This attack won't prevent us from implementing UN Resolution 1701, a resolution that was done for the welfare of Lebanon, especially the region of the South."

"The Lebanese Army wants to face terrorism using all possible means, whatever the sacrifices might be," he added.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Fatah al-Islam militants battling the army in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared had previously accused UNIFIL of bombarding the camp.

Timur Goksel, a former UNIFIL adviser, said he viewed the bombing as a "solidarity operation" linked with the Nahr al-Bared fighting, perhaps carried out by a group promoting itself as a "candidate for Al-Qaeda membership."

Many residents in the South voiced their sympathies for the UNIFIL troops and their support of the troops' presence in the South. Some also expressed concerns about the security situation and potential future attacks in the area. "I'm worried about what might happen next," said Ahmad Abdullah, a Khiam resident. "I'm afraid that Al-Qaeda may be behind the attack."

Spain will observe a national day of mourning on Tuesday when the bodies of the six soldiers are expected to arrive there, a spokesman for the Spanish government said on Monday.

Beirut 26-06-2007
The Daily Star

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