|Roadside bomb wounds pair of UNIFIL troops
|Incident follows threat by bin laden
A roadside bomb exploded Tuesday near a United Nations vehicle traveling along the highway south of Beirut, lightly wounding two peacekeepers, UN and Lebanese officials said.
Milos Strugar, adviser to the force commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), said one UNIFIL vehicle was damaged in the explosion and two peacekeepers in the vehicle were "lightly wounded" and taken to a hospital.
More than an hour after the explosion in Rmeileh, security officers were seen leading away two men in handcuffs. It was not immediately clear whether they were suspected of triggering the explosion by remote control or whether they were passers-by.
Lebanese troops sealed off the area as investigators wearing plastic gloves picked up pieces of debris and searched for parts of the bomb. Military Prosecutor Jean Fahd and Investigative Magistrate Rasheed Mezher visited the crime seen and later met with investigators from UNIFIL.
Security officials at the scene said the bomb was placed between the north- and southbound lanes on a busy highway linking Beirut with South Lebanon. It exploded shortly before 3 p.m ., as the UN vehicle drove through the area.
The vehicle - damaged by the force of the explosion - continued to roll about 50 meters after the blast, officials said. The front windshield was cracked, while the rear and side windows were blown out.
There have been warnings that the UN peacekeepers could come under terror attacks, particularly from Al-Qaeda and its sympathizers.
The bombing comes less than two weeks after Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden slammed UNIFIL and lashed out at Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in a recording released on December 29 on the Internet. In addition, Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker al-Abssi, who led militants in a three-month battle against the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in mid-2007, threatened the LAF with further bloodshed in a tape released Monday.
In Dublin Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said he was "greatly relieved" to hear the soldiers had not suffered life-threatening injuries.
He called the bombing "a timely reminder, if one were needed, of the daily dangers faced by our peacekeepers throughout the world."
The acting commander of the 13,000-strong UNIFIL, Brigadier General Jai Prakash Nehra, described the attack as a "despicable act" and hoped investigators would quickly identify those responsible.
"I see this attack as an attempt by the perpetrators to destabilize the situation and to undermine the joint efforts of the LAF and UNIFIL to bring stability and peace to Southern Lebanon," he said.
Tuesday's blast marked the third such attack on UN peacekeepers since the force was boosted to over 13,000 troops after the summer 2006 war.
In the deadliest incident, six Spanish peacekeepers, including three Colombian nationals, were killed on June 24 last year when a rigged car exploded as their patrol vehicle passed by.
On July 16, a vehicle belonging to the Tanzanian contingent was damaged in a bomb blast in Southern Lebanon, but there were no casualties.
Tuesday's explosion rocked the town of Rmeileh, near the Southern coastal city of Sidon. Smoke was seen billowing from the scene, witnesses said.
Ireland has just seven military personnel working at the UNIFIL headquarters in the coastal city of Naqoura.
Tuesday's attack drew condemnation from Lebanese authorities which described it as yet another terrorist attempt to destabilize the country.
"Prime Minister Fouad Siniora expressed his anger and condemned the terrorist crime that targeted an Irish UNIFIL patrol in the region of Rmeileh," a statement from his office said.
Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri also denounced the bombing, saying that it "does not only target UNIFIL forces but aims to scuttle the Lebanese people's security and stability and to maintain Lebanon as an open arena to the conflicts of others."
The Daily Star