TEL AVIV (Dec. 27)
The government of Norway and United Nations officials have strongly protested the killing by an Israeli tank patrol of a Norwegian officer serving with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.
The incident occurred Sunday night in the Israeli-controlled border security zone of southern Lebanon. Members of an Israel Defense Force unit mistook a UNIFIL patrol for members of the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah movement, which has been staging attacks on Israelis.
A second Norwegian soldier was wounded in the incident.
The commander of the Israeli patrol personally apologized for the fatal error to the Norwegian battalion commander whose troops were part of the U.N. forces operating in the region.
The IDF’s commander in charge of the Northern Sector has meanwhile called for a commission to investigate the incident.
According to an IDF spokesman, an Israeli tank patrol had been engaged in a night search for terrorists near Marjayoun, in the eastern sector of the buffer security zone.
Seeing what appeared to be suspicious persons, the tank commander opened fire, discovering only later that he had fired on a UNIFIL force on foot patrol.
Members of the Israeli unit subsequently offered to help the stricken Norwegian force, calling in a helicopter to airlift the wounded soldier to a hospital in Haifa.
UNIFIL spokesman Timor Goksel complained that the IDF had earlier contacted UNIFIL headquarters to learn if they had any information about terrorist movements in the area.
‘TOO MUCH INDISCRIMINATE FIRING’
Goksel said the Israelis were told that UNIFIL knew of no terrorist movements.
“There was therefore no need for the patrolling tank to have opened fire with mortar rounds and automatic fire on the five-man foot patrol without challenge,” Goksel said.
He added that members of Israel’s ally in the region, the South Lebanon Army, had earlier opened fire on Irish troops serving with UNIFIL but had caused no casualties in that incident.
“And then came this incident with the IDF. There’s just too much indiscriminate firing going on,” Goksel complained.
Yossi Beilin, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, telephoned his Norwegian counterpart, Jan Egeland, in Oslo to offer his regrets over the incident and to promise an inquiry.
Egeland in turn protested the incident to Beilin and said the Norwegian Embassy in Tel Aviv would soon present a formal written protest to Israel.
“I said that this is completely incomprehensible from the Norwegian side. The Norwegian patrol was in the U.N. area. It was a normal patrol,” Egeland told Norwegian national radio.
“In many ways this episode shows how wrong the entire Israeli occupation of south Lebanon is,” he said, adding, “There are often unclear responsibilities and lines of command.”
UNIFIL has lost 195 soldiers, including 20 Norwegians, since deploying peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon in 1978. The U.N. force now has about 5,400 troops operating in the region.