UNIFIL Peacekeepers Come Under Fire in Southern Lebanon, Hezbollah Denies Involvement

On Dec. 14, a convoy of Irish United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL) peacekeepers belonging to the 121st Infantry Battalion came under fire while traveling in the southern Lebanon village of al-Aqabiyeh. One of the peacekeepers, later named as Seán Rooney, was killed, and three other soldiers were injured.

Video shared on social media shows what appears to be United Nation (UN) vehicle speeding away while coming under small arms fire. A second video shows what appears to be the same vehicle rolled on its side and an injured peacekeeper on the ground. FDD’s Long War Journal could not independently verify the authenticity of the videos.

In a statement to Reuters, senior Hezbollah member Wafiq Safa said the shooting was an “unintentional incident” and offered condolences on behalf of the armed group. Though he denied Hezbollah had any involvement in the incident.

According to Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, UNIFIL peacekeepers had been on a “standard administrative run” to Beirut when their armored vehicles got separated.

Coveney added that “One of them got surrounded by a hostile mob — I think that’s the only way you could describe them — and shots were fired and unfortunately one of our peacekeepers was killed.”

UNIFIL’s official statement said the convoy was outside of its area of operation when the incident occurred, suggesting the vehicles diverted from their normal route before the attack occurred.

Speaking to FDD’s Long War Journal, former Israel Defense Forces’ International Spokesperson Jonathan Conricus, who was assigned to the UN Headquarters Department of Peace Keeping Operations and served as an Israeli liaison officer to UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon, said that UNIFIL has strict operating procedures in the country. Conricus noted that peacekeepers “do not deviate from the pre-coordinated routes they have approved in advance with the Lebanese Armed Forces, which the Lebanese Armed Forces approves with Hezbollah.”

Hezbollah’s approval of the routes suggests it can keep peacekeepers away from areas it deems sensitive and has knowledge of which roads are used by UNIFIL.

Adding to the suspicion of Hezbollah’s involvement in the incident, The Times reported on Sunday that the armed group murdered Rooney to “deter the UN from patrolling villages where the terrorists store weapons and plan their attacks.”

In years past, UNIFIL soldiers have come under attack while operating in southern Lebanon. In 2006, a car bomb killed six UNFIL peacekeepers in the town of Khiyam. In 2011, a spate of bombings targeted UNIFIL convoys wounding a number of peacekeepers.

While Hezbollah has never claimed responsibility for attacking UNIFIL peacekeepers, a policy memo by Asaf Orion at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy highlighted a campaign by the Iranian-backed group against UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. Orion noted that Hezbollah has “carried out a relentless intimidation campaign against UNIFIL forces, seeking to undermine their mission and prevent its own exposure.”

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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