BEIRUT, (AFP) — A roadside bomb blast in south Lebanon Friday wounded six Italian peacekeepers, two of them seriously, and two civilians, officials said.
“There was an explosion late afternoon that targeted a UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) logistics convoy along the main highway near Sidon,” UNIFIL spokesman Neeraj Singh told AFP.
Two civilians and six UNIFIL peacekeepers were injured, he added.
UNIFIL’s forensics and investigation teams were working with their Lebanese counterparts at the site to try to find out what had happened, he said.
Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa confirmed to reporters in Milan that six of his country’s troops in Lebanon were injured, including two who were in critical condition.
“Of the two who were gravely wounded, one risks losing his eye while the other suffered a laceration of his carotid artery and has already been operated” on, La Russa said.
An earlier report from Italian news agency ANSA citing defence ministry sources had said one soldier was killed in the blast, for which no group has yet claimed responsibility.
The incident came two days before the United Nations marks Peacekeepers Day and shortly after a commemoration ceremony for fallen troops was held in south Lebanon.
The attack, in a “normally quiet zone outside the area of operations,” was caused by a rudimentary explosive device that targeted a UNIFIL jeep, La Russa said.
An AFP correspondent at the scene said the front of the jeep had been destroyed in the blast, and several buildings nearby damaged.
Earlier in the day, UNIFIL held a ceremony at its headquarters in the southern village of Naqura close to the Israeli border to honour 292 peacekeepers killed since the force was established in 1978.
The explosion, the first of its kind since 2008, drew condemnation from local and international officials.
“In the name of the Lebanese government, I strongly condemn this terrorist act which targets… the safety and well-being of Lebanon and its people,” said the office of caretaker premier Saad Hariri.
“I offer my sympathy and deepest condolences to the government and people of Italy.”
UN chief Ban Ki-moon denounced the “deplorable” attack, saying his organisation would work with Lebanese authorities to ensure the perpetrators were brought to justice.
The UN Security Council also condemned the attack “in the strongest terms.”
In Washington, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner condemned the bombing.
“We call on the government of Lebanon to conduct a full investigation into the incident, the circumstances of the attack, and to ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice,” he added.
UNIFIL was initially set up to monitor Lebanon’s border with Israel but expanded after a devastating 2006 war between the Jewish state and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
The multinational force currently has 12,000 troops stationed in south Lebanon. Italy holds the largest contingent with some 2,500 soldiers deployed in south Lebanon.
The force has been the target of three other unclaimed attacks, the latest in January 2008 when two Irish officers were wounded by a roadside bomb.
In the deadliest attack, three Spanish and three Colombian peacekeepers were killed in June of 2007 when a booby-trapped car exploded as their patrol vehicle drove by.