French UN troops prepare guns against Israeli jets in Lebanon
by Nayla Razzouk
TYRE, Lebanon (AFP) - French UN anti-aircraft batteries have taken "preparatory steps" to respond to Israeli jets violating Lebanese airspace, despite global criticism of such incursions.
"The anti-aircraft unit of the (French) battalion took initial preparatory steps to respond to these actions," Milos Strugar, spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) told AFP on Friday.
He said "UNIFIL observed and reported 14 Israeli air violations this morning, on November 17, 2006, and 11 of these violations occurred in the area of operation of the French battalion with UNIFIL."
UNIFIL Force Commander General Alain Pellegrini "strongly protested to the Israeli authorities and asked them to cease these actions which are unacceptable and in violation of Resolution 1701," the spokesman said.
Strugar said the French battalion took action to respond "in accordance with UNIFIL rules of engagements and UN Security Council Resolution 1701."
"They stipulate that in implementing their mandate, all UNIFIL troops may exercise the inherent right of self-defence and take all necessary action to protect UN personnel, facilities, installations and equipment," he said.
Strugar said the overflights took place in the central sector of southern Lebanon where the multinational UNIFIL force was boosted to more than 9,000 troops after the Israeli-Hezbollah war in July and August.
"In one instance, two Israeli F15 jets flew over the area at low altitude and high speed," he said.
"At the same time, two Israeli reconnaissance RC12 aircraft were circling above the headquarters of the French battalion located in Jabal Marun," east of the southern port city of Tyre, he said.
When asked about Friday's overflights, an Israeli military spokesman in Jerusalem said only: "We don't elaborate on aerial activity".
On October 31, the French UNIFIL forces came within seconds of firing at Israeli aircraft when they overflew UN positions in southern Lebanon, sparking an official complaint from Paris against the overflights.
But French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said on November 13 that Israeli warplanes had stopped buzzing French troops in southern Lebanon, following two close incidents in the area.
Ignoring harsh international criticism, Israel has vowed to continue the overflights, claiming they were needed to monitor alleged arms smuggling by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
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