Lebanon arrests gang plotting attacks on UN force

Lebanon said on Monday it had arrested a gang of foreigners who were plotting attacks on United Nations peacekeepers, four months after six troops were killed in a bombing against a Spanish contingent.

“The Lebanese army’s secret service arrested a network of non-Lebanese terrorists who were watching the movements of UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) troops in south Lebanon and who were planning to carry out attacks against them,” the army said.

News of the arrests comes at a time of high tensions in Lebanon, with the Parliament set to meet next week to try to elect a new president amid deep political divisions between the pro- and anti-Syrian camps.

The country has also been rocked by a series of attacks against critics of former power broker Damascus, the most recent being the killing of MP Antoine Ghanem in a car-bombing last month.

“Our probe showed that the network planted an explosive device along the main road between al-Abbasseya and Jall el-Bahr, near Tyre, targeting a Unifil patrol, but the device failed to explode,” the army said in a statement.

An army spokesperson would only say that members of the group were arrested this week in the southern coastal region of Tyre, without giving more details on their identities.

He said the network was planning two other attacks in the same area with the aim of killing a large number of Unifil troops, adding that two devices were seized.

In June, six peacekeepers in the Spanish contingent, including three Colombians, were killed when a car bomb struck their armoured personnel carrier on a main road near the border with Israel.

The attack was the first deadly strike against UN peacekeepers since the force was expanded following last year’s war between Israel and guerrillas from the Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah.

In July, a vehicle belonging to the Tanzanian contingent was damaged in a bomb blast but there were no casualties.

Last Thursday, a British member of a demining team was killed by a cluster bomb dropped by Israeli forces during last year’s war.

The number of UN troops patrolling southern Lebanon was boosted to 13 500 from only 2 000 by the UN Security Council after a UN-brokered ceasefire brought an end to the 34-day conflict in 2006.

UN peacekeepers have been deployed in the country since 1978, when Israel first invaded its northern neighbour in reprisal for a Palestinian attack into its territory, three years after the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975.

Since the 2006 conflict, the Lebanese army has deployed up to the border with Israel for the first time in decades, and Unifil has reported no major incident between Hezbollah fighters and Israel.—AFP

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