Lebanon linked a bomb attack that killed six UN peacekeepers in the south of the country to a deadly standoff between Al Qaeda-inspired gunmen and the army in the north where two more soldiers were shot dead on Monday.Information Minister Ghazi Aridi pointed the finger at the Islamists for the UN attack, based on confessions extracted from Fateh Islam gunmen captured during fierce fighting at a Palestinian refugee camp which is now in its sixth week.
In the latest violence at the camp, Islamist snipers shot dead two Lebanese soldiers, an army spokesman said. Their deaths brought the total number of people killed in the deadliest internal conflict since the civil war to 162, including 82 soldiers.
Security has been tightened in south Lebanon following the attack on the peacekeepers, which has further rattled the fragile security situation in the deeply divided country and brought international condemnation.
“There is a link between the attack which targeted the Spanish contingent of UNIFIL and the combat between the Lebanese army and the terrorists of Fateh Islam in Nahr Bared,” Aridi told reporters after a Cabinet meeting.
“Lebanon is the victim of a terrorist wave striking from the north to the south in which the latest target was the Spanish contingent. This attack was preceded by confessions from arrested terrorists about preparations against UNIFIL.” It was the first fatal attack on peacekeepers since the UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s mandate was expanded last year in the wake of a devastating 34-day war between Israeli troops and Hizbollah.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned what he called a “terrorist attack” and urged a full investigation. The attack was also condemned by the European Union and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
Spanish Defence Minister Jose Antonio Alonso was visiting his country’s troops in south Lebanon after the blast while Madrid announced a day of mourning for Tuesday when the bodies of the six men â€” three Spaniards and three Colombians â€” will be brought back to the country.
Lebanese legal sources, quoting confessions from detained fighters, said earlier this month that Fateh Islam â€” which emerged in the Nahr Bared camp late last year â€” was planning to attack UN peacekeepers.
Abu Salim Taha, a spokesman for the extremist group, had accused UNIFIL forces of siding with the army and threatened to attack the Blue Helmets.
No one has claimed the attack, which a Lebanese security source said was carried out by car bomb detonated by remote control. It struck as the peacekeepers’ armoured vehicle passed by in the Marjayoun-Khiam Valley, an area about 10 kilometres from the Israeli border.
A Spanish colonel told AFP it was a “deliberate attack”.
“This attack was very well prepared in advance,” the officer said at the scene. “The bodies of two of the victims were blown several metres by the force of the blast.” UNIFIL commander Major-General Claudio Graziano of Italy said the bombing was aimed at destabilising the region.
“It’s not an attack against Lebanon and UNIFIL only but against the stability of the region. This attack has made UNIFIL more committed to fulfil its mission in southern Lebanon,” he said in a statement.
Hizbollah too was quick to condemn the bombing in an area considered its stronghold. “This act of aggression is aimed at increasing insecurity in Lebanon, especially in the south of the country,” it said.
The attack came on top of a series of car bombings targeting anti-Syrian politicians in and around Beirut and as the army pursued its combat with Fateh Islam.
In the north, 11 people died in clashes in the port city of Tripoli overnight, the first in the mainly Sunni Muslim city since the fighting between the Islamists and the army in the city and Nahr Bared camp began on May 20.