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French Version

Graziano pledges to keep keeping the peace despite attack

The commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vowed on Thursday to double efforts to preserve peace and stability in the Southern region.

A bomb attack earlier this week wounded two peacekeepers serving as part of UNIFIL.

"We are here to do a job and nothing will deter us from it," Major General Claudio Graziano said during military maneuvers with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in the South.

"The challenges are diverse and we saw some examples of it in the past week," Graziano told reporters near the UNIFIL headquarters in the coastal town of Naqoura. "Such incidents only further strengthen our resolve to pursue our mandate for peace and security in South Lebanon."

He said Thursday's live-fire artillery exercise was the second of its kind since the 2006 war with Israel- "and is directed at honing the skills and expertise of the battle group."

During the military exercise, UNIFIL and Lebanese Army forces fired 46 rounds of artillery at targets located off the coastline, he said.

Two Irish military officers - Major John McCormack and Sergeant David Williams - were slightly wounded in a roadside bombing on Tuesday which targeted their vehicle. Ireland's honorary consul to Lebanon, Khaled Daouk, met the two peacekeepers Wednesday.

"This attack was not targeted at Ireland but was a message to UNIFIL and Lebanon," Daouk said after visiting the two at Sidon's Hammoud Hospital, where they are recuperating.

Daouk said although the last Irish unit serving with UNIFIL was stood down in October, there are still a number of Irish staff officers working with the UN command.

Tuesday's bombing, for which no one has claimed responsibility, marked the third such attack against UNIFIL since the force was boosted to more than 13,000 soldiers after the 34-day war in July-August 2006.

More than an hour after the explosion, 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.

Security officials at the scene said the bomb was placed between the north- and southbound lanes on a busy highway linking Beirut with southern Lebanon. It exploded shortly before 3 p.m. as the UN vehicle drove through the area.

The vehicle - dented 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 the UNIFIL troops and lashed out at Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in a recording released December 29 on the Internet.

In addition, Fatah al-Islam boss Shaker al-Abssi, who led militants in an unsuccessful three-month battle against the LAF at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in mid-2007, threatened the LAF with further bloodshed in a tape released on Monday.

Beirut 11-01-2008
The Daily Star

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