TEL AVIV (Jan. 12)
An Israeli soldier was wounded in the south Lebanon security zone Monday morning when his armored personnel carrier struck a land mine eight kilometers from the Israel border. The soldier was taken by helicopter to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
Meanwhile Maj. Gen. Yossi Peled, commander of the northern region, has ordered a full investigation into the circumstances of the death of an Irish soldier under fire from an Israel Defense Force Patrol in south Lebanon last Saturday night.
The soldier, Cpl. Dermot McLaughlin, 33, a member of the Irish contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was hit by shell fragments when the IDF tank patrol opened fire on “a large terrorist squad in the village of Barashit” at the edge of the security zone, an IDF spokesman said Sunday. According to the IDF, the soldier was at a UNIFIL post close to the terrorist positions and “was accidentally killed by the shots.”
Premier Yitzhak Shamir called the incident a “tragic mistake.” Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Levy have already apologized and expressed regrets. The Irish government lodged a strong protest with Israel. McLaughlin was married and the father of five children.
INITIAL CONFUSION OVER RESPONSIBILITY
There was initial confusion here over who was responsible. Early reports said he was killed by soldiers of the Israel-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) who opened fire on “suspicious” persons. Later reports confirmed the responsibility of an IDF unit that took up positions in what was previously an SLA stronghold in Barashit near a UNIFIL outpost.
The SLA position was overrun by the Shiite extremist Hezbullah last month resulting in the deaths of six SLA soldiers. The post was later retaken by the SLA and temporarily occupied by an IDF tank unit.
UNIFIL spokesman Timor Goksel said Sunday that the UNIFIL post in the village has been there since 1978 and was clearly marked by a large sign and a United Nations flag which is floodlit at night.
He said when the first tank shell hit the UNIFIL structure the unit commander went to the roof and fired red flares, an identification signal agreed upon with the IDF. But the firing continued, he said. One shell exploded in a room where McLaughlin was sleeping.
UNIFIL has complained frequently about what it describes as “indiscriminate shooting” by SLA units. Goksel said shells fired by the SLA have exploded on or near UNIFIL positions 59 times in the past three weeks. He said UNIFIL was reconsidering its standing orders not to return fire.
20 UNIFIL SOLDIERS KILLED IN 1986
Marrack Goulding, UN Undersecretary for Special Political Affairs, who was in Israel last week in connection with the impending renewal of the UNIFIL mandate, said that 20 UNIFIL soldiers were killed in 1986 as a result of attacks by “various armed groups in the area.” A total of 139 UNIFIL soldiers have been killed since the international peacekeeping force was sent to Lebanon more than 10 years ago.
France recently reduced its contribution to UNIFIL from 1,400 to 500 soldiers because of severe casualties. UNIFIL sources indicated Monday that Ireland might pull it troops out altogether. Goulding held the SLA responsible for most of the UNIFIL casualties. He charged that it often “deliberately fires on UN positions.”
The SLA claims that terrorists often use UNIFIL positions as cover and that UN casualties occur when their men are caught in cross-fire. The IDF said that while it supplies and trains the SLA it does not give it orders.