BEIRUT (Reuters) -Lebanon’s foreign ministry said on Thursday it regretted an assault on a Finnish battalion of U.N. peackeepers and awaited results of an inquiry as videos showed local people attacking their vehicles with rocks.
Videos circulated on social media and published by news outlets showed residents of a southern Lebanese town pelting United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vehicles with rocks on Wednesday.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants regrets the incident that occurred with the Finnish battalion in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon,” it said in a statement.
“The Ministry confirms that it does not accept any form of transgression against the UNIFIL forces.”
Following the incident on Wednesday, UNIFIL said that “depriving UNIFIL of freedom of movement and attacking those who serve the cause of peace is unacceptable” and violated a peacekeeping agreement between Lebanon and the UN. It urged Lebanese authorities to hold those responsible accountable.
The peacekeepers, now numbering around 10,000, have been stationed in southern Lebanon since 1978, when they arrived following an Israeli invasion during the 1975-1990 civil war.
While Palestinian rebel groups were active there at the time, Iran-backed Hezbollah now operates in the area. The group fought a brutal 34-day war with Israel in 2006 that left around 1,200 Lebanese – most of them civilians – and more than 150 Israelis – mostly soldiers – dead.
Wednesday’s incident came just hours after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres departed the country following a four-day visit in which he reaffirmed the need for peacekeeping forces to go about their mission.
Ali Saleh, mayor of the town where the incident took place, told Reuters the peacekeepers had gone to streets they didn’t usually frequent, leading to locals asking them about their motives. He said the situation escalated and confirmed people then pelted UNIFIL vehicles with rocks.
“Any out-of-the ordinary actions will provoke a reaction,” he said.
(Reporting by Timour Azhari and Lilian Wagdy, editing by Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman)