TEL AVIV (Aug. 12)
Seventeen French soldiers in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were wounded in a clash with Amal Shiite militiamen Tuesday. Two Amal militiamen were reported killed and three were injured. It was the most serious clash between UNIFIL and the local Lebanese militia since the Israel Defense Force withdrew from Lebanon more than a year ago.
The immediate evacuation of the 17 French soldiers was blocked by the Amal fighters, who surrounded the unit and kept it pinned down. It was several hours before some of the wounded soldiers were helicoptered out of the area while others were reported to be receiving first aid at a makeshift medical center set up by UNIFIL within the area. A UNIFIL spokesman said that three wounded French soldiers escaped and were receiving treatment at a UNIFIL hospital at Nakoura, near the Lebanon-Israel border.
The clash began Monday when two Amal members refused to stop at a roadblock staffed by the French contingent of UNIFIL near Abasiye, some five kilometers east of Tyre. In an ensuing dispute during which the French soldiers tried to forcibly disarm the Amal militiamen, the French soldiers fatally shot two Amal men. One of them was reportedly the local Amal commander. Amal militiamen then attacked that French contingent, wounding 17 of them and surrounded the unit. The two units continued to exchange fire for several hours.
Beirut Radio reported that Nabih Berri, the Amal leader who was visiting Damascus at the time of the clash, instructed his soldiers to cease fire and permit the evacuation of the wounded.