The United Nations Mission in LebanonUnifil, has strongly condemned attacks on its staff in southern Lebanon, where more than 300 Irish troops are stationed, describing the attacks as criminal and a breach of international law.
The warning comes after a Unifil peacekeeper from Nepal was injured in an attack about 15km from Camp Shamrock, where most Irish soldiers are stationed.
This incident occurred at around 10pm on Saturday when two mortar shells hit a Unifil base near the village of Houla. The injured Nepalese peacekeeper was evacuated and is receiving medical treatment. His life is not in danger, it said in a statement. Earlier on Saturday, a shell also hit the Unifil headquarters in Naqoura, and no injuries were reported.
The Irish Armed Forces have taken part in Unifil, the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, since 1978.
Since the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel three weeks ago, there has been increasing violence in the region and ongoing clashes between Israel and Hezbollah in the Lebanese border area.
Hezbollah fighters have fired rockets into Israel from the Irish area of operations, raising fears that Irish posts could be unintentionally hit in retaliatory attacks. Irish Unifil troops had to seek shelter in concrete bunkers on several occasions due to overhead fire.
These disputes were the order of the day. Hezbollah said 46 of its fighters were killed and Israel said clashes in the region had claimed the lives of seven of its soldiers. There are currently 331 Defense Forces personnel deployed at Unifil, eight of whom are stationed at the UN headquarters in Naqoura.
In a statement on Sunday, Unifil expressed its “grave concerns about these two attacks on our troops” who were “working tirelessly around the clock to restore stability in southern Lebanon” and defuse tensions in the region.
“We urge all parties involved in the conflict to cease fire immediately,” Unifil said. “An attack on UN peacekeepers is a crime, a violation of international law and must be condemned. An investigation has been launched into both incidents.”
In response to queries, the Defense Forces said Irish troops from the 122nd Infantry Battalion in Unifil had taken shelter in sheltered positions, adding that the deployment of the 123rd Infantry Battalion in Unifil was continuing as planned. Irish personnel “continued to monitor the situation” and everyone was “accounted for and safe,” the Defense Forces said.
In addition to the Irish Unifil personnel, a further 118 Irish troops are deployed in Syria with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof), an operation to maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria.
While the Defense Forces described the situation in the Undof area of responsibility as “calm”, Irish personnel maintained a “high level of vigilance and continued to monitor the situation”. It added that “all non-essential activities” had been suspended.
A further 13 Irish staff served as observers with the United Nations ceasefire monitoring organization in Israel, Lebanon and Syria. The defense force said they were “all safe and well” and were complying with UN security precautions, particularly around non-essential travel.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the government continued to push for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
“The situation in Gaza and the region remains uncertain and the Tánaiste is regularly updated on the latest developments. He has worked with political colleagues in the region, from Israel, [the] “Palestinian side, UN relief agency, Qatar, Iran, Jordan,” the spokesman said.
“We continue to call for a humanitarian ceasefire. The situation in Gaza is critical. We need a significant expansion of humanitarian access and the urgent provision of fuel as part of the humanitarian response.”
The Foreign Office continues to contact Irish citizens in Gaza on a daily basis, the spokesman said, adding that the ministry is “also working with relevant authorities in Egypt and Israel”.