The U.N. command has transferred 36 Americans working for the United Nations in southern Lebanon to Israel after militant Shia Muslims threatened to attack or kidnap U.S. citizens, Israel radio reported today.
U.N. officials confirmed that 17 U.S. soldiers working for the U.N. observer force and 19 civilians attached to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were ordered to leave.
U.N. spokesman Timur Goksel said the U.N. Secretariat in New York had recommended that the American staff be transferred to Israel indefinitely "in view of the situation," and the U.N. command in southern Lebanon agreed.
"This advice was seen as timely by the UNIFIL Command and executed as of Saturday morning," Goksel said.
Israel radio said that Shia extremists have threatened to attack or kidnap U.S. citizens in Lebanon and that the Hezbollah Shia faction has threatened to attack Americans working in the U.N. force if the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Lebanon.
But Goksel said: "It is not an outcome of a direct threat to UNIFIL or information from the field. We consider it a temporary, precautionary measure."
In southern Lebanon, meanwhile, five Beirut-based journalists, including employees of the Associated Press, Reuters and Newsweek, were arrested by Israeli forces, questioned and released.
The arrests followed a formal statement by Israel's army that it is banning foreign correspondents from entering the occupied south. Both Lebanese and foreign journalists have defied the ban.
An army spokesman in Tel Aviv said the five had entered the village of Maarake, where 12 people died Monday in an explosion Muslims blamed on Israel.