At last it happened. Every one predicted – not least the United Nations officers on the team – that the international UN peacekeeping army in southern Lebanon would be attacked by a Sunni Muslim group attached to al-Qa’ida, and yesterday afternoon three Spanish and three Colombian soldiers paid with their lives for the fulfilment of this prediction.
A roadside bomb between the villages of Marjayoun and Khaim, only six miles from the Israeli border, exploded next to two UN armoured vehicles, killing five UN soldiers and wounding at least four others. Three of the injured were from Spain. The road was at the centre of fierce fighting between the Israeli army and Hizbollah last summer and it is possible – although highly unlikely – that the bombs were munitions left over from those battles. But the straight and remote road between the two villages has been cleared by de-mining officers in the months since the war, and the Lebanese army discovered months ago that Sunni groups around Tripoli had put together maps of southern Lebanon which showed UN patrol routes, including those of the Spanish army.
The Spanish suffered severely for their support for George Bush in the Iraq war, and now, it seems they are paying the price for being part of an expanded UN army in the south of Lebanon, one which was put in place with the encouragement of George Bush and Tony Blair to secure Israel’s northern border after last summer’s conflict. It is an international army commanded by four Nato generals, and many Lebanese regard it as an extension of Nato rather than a UN peacekeeping mission.