BEIRUT, (AP) – Villagers threw stones at U.N. peacekeeping troops in southern Lebanon Saturday, lightly injuring 14 soldiers, in an attempt to prevent an investigation near the site of a recent explosion, a spokeswoman said.
In one instance, a peacekeeping patrol had to fire warning shots in the air to clear its path, said peacekeeping spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane.
Saturday’s incident is believed to be the most serious confrontation between Shiite Muslims sympathetic to the militant Hezbollah group and the thousands of U.N. peacekeepers deployed in southern Lebanon after the 2006 war between the guerrillas and Israel.
The incident came after an explosion Tuesday in a southern village was blamed on a suspected Hezbollah weapons depot that apparently accidentally blew up.
Relations between the U.N. force and Hezbollah and its allies have been largely good, with only very limited incidents in the last three years. Sunni Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda, which is hostile to Hezbollah, are suspected of being behind the deadliest attack on the force: a car bomb that killed six Spanish peacekeepers in June 2007.
Saturday’s clash occurred when U.N. peacekeepers and Lebanese army troops were less than a mile from the site of Tuesday’s explosion “to verify some elements related to” the accident, Bouziane told The Associated Press.
About 100 people gathered and attempted to hamper their activity by throwing stones, and additional troops were deployed as the crowd grew, said Bouziane.
Tuesday’s explosion occurred in an abandoned building in Khirbet Silim, about 9 miles (15 kilometers) from the Israeli border. Lebanese officials have said the explosion was caused by a fire in a Hezbollah weapons storage facility. Hezbollah has remained silent.
U.N. peacekeepers have said the weapons depot was a “serious violation” of a U.N. Security Council solution that ended the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006. The U.N.-brokered truce prohibits Hezbollah from engaging in military activities in south Lebanon and forbids weapon smuggling to the group. But the guerrillas are believed to continue to have a clandestine presence in the area.
After the explosion, Israel accused Iran and Syria of violating those conditions by sending weapons to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah and Lebanon’s government, which has backed the guerrillas, have in turn accused Israel of violating the resolution by routinely sending its military aircraft on reconnaissance missions over the country.
Under the U.N. resolution, a 13,300-member U.N. peacekeeping force from 28 nations was deployed along Lebanon’s border with Israel to help 15,000 Lebanese government troops extend their authority into the south for the first time in decades and create a buffer zone free of Hezbollah fighters.