UN and Lebanon hold memorial for killed Irish peacekeeper
BEIRUT (AP) — The Lebanese army and U.N. peacekeepers held a memorial at the Beirut airport on Sunday for an Irish soldier killed by a mob that opened fire last week at two vehicles belonging to the U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.
The attack that killed 24 year-old Pvt. Seán Rooney of Newtowncunningham took place near the southern town of Al-Aqbiya on Wednesday night, as he and seven other Irish peacekeepers from U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as UNIFIL, were on their way to the Beirut airport.
A person familiar with the investigation said local residents were angered and became aggressive when two UNIFIL armored vehicles took a detour through Al-Aqbiya, which the residents said is not part of the area under UNIFIL’s mandate.
The Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, which has bases and traditional strongholds in southern Lebanon, has not commented on the attack.
One of the unidentified attackers shot Rooney in the head, a security official said. Three other Irish peacekeepers in another UNIFIL vehicle were injured when their car crashed into the aluminum shutters of a building and rolled over as it tried to flee the scene.
At the airport memorial, U.N. peacekeepers stood by Rooney’s coffin after it arrived from a hospital the southern city of Sidon. His body was then transferred to a military carrier to be taken back to Ireland.
“We shall always keep in mind our fallen comrades in arms, as they represent an example of an unwavering commitment to UNIFIL and this country,” the UNIFIL chief, Maj. Gen. Aroldo Lázaro, said at the memorial.
Representatives of Lebanese caretaker Defense Minister Maurice Slim and army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun also attended.
The Lebanese authorities have not yet commented on the ongoing investigation, though the security official added that seven bullets were retrieved from the vehicle.
The Irish military declined to comment on the incident to the AP.
Confrontations between residents in southern Lebanon and UNIFIL troops are not uncommon. In January, unknown perpetrators attacked Irish peacekeepers in the southern town of Bint Jbeil, vandalizing their vehicles and stealing items. The residents accused them of taking photographs of residential homes, though the U.N. mission denied this.
UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after a 1978 invasion. The U.N. expanded its mission following the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah group, allowing peacekeepers to deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border to help the Lebanese military extend its authority into the country’s south for the first time in decades.
That resolution also called for a full cessation of Israeli-Hezbollah hostilities, which has not happened.