Memorial as Irish peacekeeper killed in Lebanon flown home

AFP
United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon took part in a memorial service Sunday as the body of their slain Irish comrade was repatriated, days
after being shot dead in an attack.

Private Sean Rooney, 23, was killed and three others were wounded Wednesday after the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) convoy came under fire near the village of Al-Aqbiya in the south of the Mediterranean country.

“Sean Rooney made the hardest sacrifice a soldier can do: giving his life while serving lasting peace in Lebanon,” UNIFIL commander Major General Aroldo Lazaro Saenz said.

UNIFIL has demanded a “speedy” investigation into the attack, the motivations of which remain unclear.

Dozens of peacekeepers wearing blue berets as well as Lebanese soldiers paid respects as Rooney’s coffin — draped in both Irish and UN flags — was carried onto a plane by comrades in the capital Beirut.

UNIFIL acts as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel, neighbours which remain technically at war. The force operates in the south near the border, a stronghold of Iran-backed group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah security chief Wafic Safa has said the killing was “unintentional”.

A Lebanese defence ministry spokesman said Beirut was determined to “bring to justice” those responsible for the attack.

It is the first death of a UNIFIL member in a violent incident in Lebanon since January 2015, when a Spanish peacekeeper was killed by Israeli fire.

Witnesses said villagers in the Al-Aqbiya area blocked Rooney’s vehicle after it took a road along the Mediterranean coast not normally used by the UN force.

Al-Aqbiya is just outside UNIFIL’s area of operations, the force said.

A Lebanese judicial source told AFP the driver was killed by a bullet to the head, one of seven that penetrated the vehicle.

The three passengers were wounded when the vehicle hit a pylon and overturned.

UNIFIL was set up in 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces after they invaded Lebanon in reprisal for a Palestinian attack.

Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000 but fought a devastating 2006 war with Hezbollah and its allies.

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