TEL AVIV (Feb. 20)
Israel has become embroiled in a serious conflict with the United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, after two U.N. soldiers were killed and six wounded by mortar fire from the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.
The incident occurred at midnight Monday. The victims were members of the Nepalese contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, a 5,800-member force to which nine nations contribute military personnel.
A full report has been sent to U.N. headquarters in New York, according to UNIFIL spokesman Timor Goksel. Israel expects a tough protest from U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who holds Israel responsible for the actions of the SLA.
A detailed inquiry into the events has been launched by the Israel Defense Force and Gen. Antoine Lahad, commander of the SLA.
The largely Christian militia helps the IDF police the southern Lebanon security zone against terrorist infiltrators, and is financed, trained and equipped by Israel.
Reports from the area said 15 150-mm mortar shells were fired at about midnight from an SLA position near Shama’a village, in the western extremity of the security zone.
Six shells exploded in a small UNIFIL encampment. A direct hit demolished an observation tower, manned by the unit commander and two Nepalese soldiers. The officer and one of the soldiers were killed.
Six soldiers suffered shrapnel wounds or concussions.
IDF and SLA commanders said the SLA unit was defending itself against rocket-propelled grenades and mortar fire from Hezbollah terrorists in concealed positions.
A UNIFIL spokesman described the SLA’s fire as “wild and indiscriminate.”
In Beirut, a group calling itself the Islamic Resistance Movement claimed its forces attacked two SLA positions with rockets and machine guns.
The dead Nepalese officer had arrived in the region only a week ago. The soldier killed with him was due to return home next week.
Their deaths brought to 172 the number of UNIFIL soldiers killed in action since the force was established by the U.N. Security Council in 1978.