An Israeli tank fired on a village in southern Lebanon and killed an Irish U.N. soldier, officials said Sunday. The U.N. commander protested to Israel, and Ireland said it will reconsider its peacekeeping role.
A spokesman for the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon--UNIFIL--said the Irish contingent had fired flares to warn the Israelis to stop firing on the village of Braachit six miles north of the border Saturday night, but the Israelis persisted, killing Cpl. Dermot McLoughlin, 33, and severely damaging the U.N. position.
McLoughlin was the second Irish UNIFIL soldier killed in as many months by firing from Israeli or Israeli-backed forces in Lebanon.
Maj. Gen. Gustav Hagllund, commander of UNIFIL, said "the firing was unprovoked" and lodged a strong protest with the Israel Defense Forces.
Israelis Express Regret
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Levy, expressed their regrets to their Irish counterparts.
Israel later admitted that a shell fired by one of its tanks killed the Irish soldier but said it was aimed at a band of guerrillas.
An Israel Defense Forces spokesman in Tel Aviv said an initial investigation showed that the incident occurred after an Israeli army unit sighted "a large terrorist squad" in Braachit.
"The unit opened fire on the terrorists, and an Irish UNIFIL soldier who was in a structure close to the terrorist squad was accidentally hit," the spokesman said. "An IDF investigation is continuing into the unfortunate event."
UNIFIL spokesman Timur Goksel said UNIFIL had not been informed of the initial results of the Israeli investigation and was still waiting for a final report.
"But as far as we know, there was no guerrilla activity in the village," he said.
'Dismay' in Dublin
In Dublin, Irish Defense Minister Paddy O'Toole said he was "dismayed, disappointed and disgusted" to learn of the death of McLoughlin. He said the future of Ireland's role in the peacekeeping mission will be reconsidered at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
Irish Foreign Minister Peter Barry sent a message to both Israel and U.N. officials expressing his "serious concern."
Goksel said McLoughlin died of his wounds shortly after a tank shell slammed into a room where he was resting Saturday night.
Goksel said Israeli soldiers suddenly started firing at 8:40 p.m. with tanks, mortars and heavy machine guns.
After a tank round hit the Irish UNIFIL position, the Irish commander "climbed on the roof and fired two red flares at them as a signal for them to stop," Goksel said by telephone.
"But another round hit a room where Cpl. McLoughlin was resting. The position was then hit again and severely damaged," Goksel said.
McLoughlin was the 21st Irish peacekeeper killed since UNIFIL's founding in 1978. Another Irish soldier was killed in Braachit in December by a round fired by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.
Since 1978, 129 UNIFIL members have died in Lebanon.