Local Time

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Israeli commando raid alarms UN

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed deep concern over Saturday's Israeli commando raid on Lebanon, which he called a truce violation.
Lebanon has said it may halt its army deployment in the south - a key element of the ceasefire plan.

The night raid in the eastern Bekaa Valley - deep inside Lebanon - left one Israeli soldier dead and two injured.

Israel said it was trying to disrupt weapons supplies from Iran and Syria to Hezbollah, and insisted the truce held.

"We had specific information of arms transfers taking place and we acted to prevent that violation " Mark Regev, Israeli spokesman

The raid centred on the village of Bodai, west of the city of Baalbek, some 100km (60 miles) north of the Israeli border and is the most serious incident since the UN-brokered truce came into effect on Monday.

"The secretary general is deeply concerned about a violation by the Israeli side of the cessation of hostilities," a spokesman for Mr Annan said on the UN website.

Such violations "endanger the fragile calm", the statement said.

It also called on "all parties to respect strictly the arms embargo".

Threat to ceasefire

Lebanon's Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, called the raid a "naked violation" of the six-day-old UN truce.

His Defence Minister, Elias al-Murr, said that if the UN failed to give "clear answers" in response to the raid he "might be forced to ask the cabinet early next week to halt the army deployment in the south".

The BBC's Nick Childs in Beirut correspondent says the UN's main concern is that the incident both highlights the urgent need for UN reinforcements and will put off potential troop contributors, because it projects an image of insecurity.

Fifty French military engineers arrived in the Lebanese port of Naqoura on Saturday, the first soldiers to bolster the UN peacekeeping force.

They are among 200 extra troops promised by France, as the UN struggles to build its expanded force.

The UN wants 3,500 troops on the ground by the end of August, to be increased later to 15,000. It says it is disappointed with the French contribution and wants other European nations to offer more help too.

Lebanon will be the focus of emergency talks between Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Sunday. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallim will not attend, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV reported.

Heavy fighting

Blood and bandages at the scene of the Israeli raid were evidence of the haste with which the Israelis had to treat their wounded, the BBC's Jon Leyne reports.

Local people said the Israelis came down from the hills in two jeeps and drove across a cornfield.

The troops then battled Hezbollah forces for more than two hours before being flown out by helicopter while fighter jets provided cover, the villagers said.

There is speculation locally that the Israelis may have been trying to capture a senior Hezbollah figure who lives in the village.

Lebanese sources earlier told Reuters agency that three militants died in the incident.

Israel insisted it had not breached the ceasefire.

"We had specific information of arms transfers taking place and we acted to prevent that violation, so that violation is not from the Israeli side - we were responding to a violation of the resolution by Hezbollah," said Israeli spokesman Mark Regev.

Israel has said it will continue to carry out such actions until an expanded international military force is in place to prevent Hezbollah's rearmament.

The UN resolution which stopped the conflict said Israel should end all offensive military action and Hezbollah should end all attacks.

It also called for a halt to all unauthorised arms deliveries to Lebanon.


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