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UN Condemns Israeli Killing of Spanish Peacekeeper in Lebanon

UNIFIL Force Commander Head of Mission Major-General Luciano Portolano salutes the coffin of departed Spanish peacekeeper Lance Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo. (UNIFIL)

UNIFIL Force Commander Head of Mission Major-General Luciano Portolano salutes the coffin of departed Spanish peacekeeper Lance Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo.
(UNIFIL)

The United Nations Security Council has condemned the killing of a Spanish UN peacekeeper by Israeli forces responding to a Hezbollah missile attack that killed two Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

The Spaniard, identified by El País as 36-year-old Lance Corporal Francisco Javier Soria, was a member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which was established in 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon and to restore peace and security in the war-ravaged region.

Soria was killed when Israeli forces returned fire at three Lebanese villages in response to five anti-tank missiles launched by Hezbollah militants at an IDF convoy traveling near the border in the occupied Shebaa Farms. Staff Sergeant Dor Nini, 20, and Major Yochai Kalangel, 25, were killed in the attack, the Times of Israel reports. Seven other Israeli soldiers were wounded.

Hezbollah said the attack was retaliation for an IDF strike in the Golan Heights last week that killed top Hezbollah commanders, including Jihad Mughniyeh and Mohammed Issa, along with Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Mohammed Ali Allahdadi.

At the United Nations in New York, Chilean Ambassador Cristián Barros, who is serving as president of the Security Council, condemned Soria’s killing.

“The members of the Security Council condemned, in the strongest terms, the death of a UNIFIL Spanish peacekeeper, which occurred in the context of fire exchanged along the blue line,” said Barros. “The members of the Security Council expressed their deepest sympathy to the family of the fallen peacekeeper and to the government of Spain.”

The Times of Israel reports Hezbollah has communicated to Israel that it seeks no escalation in the wake of Wednesday’s incident.

“UNIFIL sent us a message that as far as [Hezbollah] is concerned the incident is over,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Thursday morning in an interview with Israel Radio.

But Ya’alon ominously added: “I don’t know if the events are behind us. The IDF is ready, deployed for any development. Our long arm knows how to reach wherever is necessary. Anyone who tries to attack us is signing their own death warrant.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran, whose Islamic fundamentalist regime backs Hezbollah in its resistance struggle against Israel. Netanyahu vowed that the perpetrators of the latest aggression will “pay the full price” for their actions, and told a meeting of his cabinet that Iran is using Hezbollah to establish a “terrorist front” in the Syrian-controlled section of the Golan Heights, much of which has been illegally occupied by Israeli forces for nearly half a century.

Retired Israeli general Israel Ziv said he believes Wednesday’s attack was an attempt by Hezbollah to draw Israel further into the Syrian civil war. Hezbollah fighters are allied with forces loyal to embattled Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“Israel needs to protect its interests but not take any unnecessary steps that may pull us into the conflict in Syria,” Ziv told Reuters.

A memorial service was held on Thursday morning at Beirut Airport to honor Soria.

“This tragic incident reminds us of the tasks undertaken by United Nations personnel who are serving far from home, under difficult conditions, to bring peace and prosperity to the people we serve. This is a brave and noble choice,” said UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Luciano Portolano. “Today, as ever, in respect for our fallen colleague, let us all pledge to continue to work tirelessly and courageously towards UNIFIL’s goals and mandate.”

Gen. Portolano strongly condemned Soria’s killing, which he called a serious violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, a measure intended to resolve the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. UNIFIL has launched an investigation of the incident.

The United States condemned Hezbollah’s deadly attack, calling it a violation of the UN-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon, while expressing its “deep concern” over Israeli’s killing of the Spanish peacekeeper. In a statement, the State Department reaffirmed its support for “Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense.”

Israel and Lebanon last went to war in 2006 when IDF troops launched a massive invasion of its northern neighbor in response to Hezbollah rocket and other attacks. Israeli forces carried out more than 7,000 airstrikes, 2,500 naval bombardments and countless artillery strikes.

During the war, Hezbollah militants fired rockets indiscriminately at Israel, which responded by targeting Lebanese civilian infrastructure. Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon declared all southern Lebanese civilians “terrorists,” and IDF troops killed more than 1,100 innocent men, women and children, compared to 43 Israelis killed by Hezbollah rockets.

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