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Lebanon Bomb Kills Five U.N. Peacekeepers

A bomb apparently targeting a U.N. personnel carrier exploded Sunday by the side of a road in southern Lebanon, killing five peacekeepers and injuring three, officials said.

Spanish Defense Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said the five included three Colombians and two Spaniards. The three injured peacekeepers were also from Spain, he said.

"The mostly likely cause of this attack has been an explosion of a car bomb or device activated by remote control. It has been a premeditated attack," he told reporters in Madrid, ruling out that a land mine caused the blast.

Sunday's deadly explosion was the first time that UNIFIL has come under attack since it was reinforced last summer after the war between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli forces in Lebanon. The 13,000-member U.N. force from 30 countries along with 15,000 Lebanese troops patrols a zone along Lebanese-Israeli border.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud "strongly denounced" the bombing, saying it was intended to destabilize Lebanon.

In a statement on its television station Al-Manar, Hezbollah also denounced the attack, calling it a "suspicious act." The militant group has had good relations with UNIFIL since the troops were first deployed in Lebanon in 1978.

A security official based in southern Lebanon said the explosion was caused by a bomb at the side of a road about four miles north of the Israeli border town of Metulla. The official was not authorized to speak to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity.

White smoke billowed from the armored personnel carrier, which was thrown by the force of the explosion to the side of the road. Fire engines rushed to the area to put out the flames.

Witnesses reported another explosion shortly afterward but it was believed to be either ammunition or the vehicle's fuel tank blowing up.

In Paris, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her French counterpart condemned the attack.

"The UNIFIL mission has been very important in helping to bring about an end to the Lebanon war of last summer and helping to bring security so that the people of Lebanon could return to normal life," Rice said.

There have been warnings that the peacekeepers could come under terror attacks, particularly from al-Qaida and its sympathizers. Media reports earlier this month said interrogations by Lebanese authorities with captured militants revealed plots to attack the force.

Those warnings became more serious after Fatah Islam, an Islamic militant group, began fighting Lebanese troops in a northern Lebanon Palestinian refugee camp five weeks ago. The militants have threatened to take their battle outside northern Lebanon and other militant groups have issued Internet statements supporting Fatah Islam.

Earlier Sunday, the state-run National News Agency said the Spanish battalion had organized a celebration in its headquarters in Ibl el-Saqi near Marjayoun to mark the anniversary of St. John the Baptist — the patron saint of King Juan Carlos. The celebration was attended by UNIFIL commander, Gen. Claudio Graziano of Italy.

Southern Lebanon has been largely quiet after the summer war that killed more than 1,200 people, most of them in Lebanon. Rockets were fired on Israel a week ago, causing damage but no casualties in an attack that was blamed on radical Palestinians or sympathizers with Fatah Islam.

The attack on the peacekeepers comes amid growing instability in Lebanon.

Along with the northern fighting and the southern rocket attack, about a half dozen bombs have exploded in residential neighborhoods in the Beirut area since the Fatah Islam-army fighting erupted May 20. One of the Beirut bombs killed a prominent anti-Syrian member of the country's Parliament.

On Sunday, Lebanese troops raided an apartment complex suspected of housing Islamic militants in the northern port city of Tripoli, sparking a gunbattle that left 10 people dead, including a soldier and six gunmen, security officials said.

The fighting marked a new escalation in the army's battle with Islamic militants, as the fighting shifted from the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared on Tripoli's outskirts back to the city itself.

From The Associated Press