Israeli Raid in Lebanon Disrupts U.N. Truce
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
Less than a week into a fragile ceasefire in the Middle East, fighting flared up again today in Lebanon. Israeli commandos raided a Hezbollah stronghold deep inside the country. One Israeli soldier was killed.
The fighting does not appear to be escalating, but it does complicate the United Nations peacekeeping mission.
In a statement, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was deeply concerned about what he called a violation of the U.N.-backed truce. But Israel calls the attack defensive and designed to stop suspected arms shipments from Iran and Syria.
NPR foreign correspondent Jamie Tarabay is in Tyre, Lebanon.
Jamie, what can you tell us about this Israeli raid?
JAMIE TARABAY reporting:
Well, all these hours later, there still really aren't very clear details on what exactly happened in this village near the Bakaa Valley in eastern Lebanon.
Some officials are speculating that Israel was actually targeting a senior Hezbollah official, maybe to use in a prisoner exchange for the two Israeli soldiers that Hezbollah kidnapped.
What we do know is that the raid, which Israelis do confirm happened, took place. The Israeli commandos were air-lifted there by helicopter and Israeli missiles reportedly fired at a bridge and destroyed it, which if true, makes the missile attack the first Israeli air strike since the ceasefire came in last Monday.
Now, obviously it's caused a lot of outrage here. Lebanon's defense minister is threatening to halt the deployment of any more Lebanese troops to the south if the U.N. doesn't come out strongly on this.
ELLIOTT: How do the Israelis characterize this raid? In terms of the ceasefire agreement?
TARABAY: Well, the Israelis have said that they don't believe that this is a violation of the ceasefire. They say that they have carried out this operation which was designed to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming, and they say that they will continue to carry out these missions until there is a Lebanese force or an international force that is able to prevent it.
ELLIOTT: How will this affect plans to deploy a United Nations peacekeeping force to southern Lebanon?
TARABAY: Well, this is one of the big problems that the French in particular have stalled making any more commitments than they have already. Today, around 50 French military engineers landed in the south, in Naqoura. The problem with this force - and this is something that France has been speaking about a lot - is it needs a clear mandate on what its rules of engagement are and what its powers will be. Do they forcibly disarm Hezbollah? What do they do if they see a Hezbollah fighter fire a weapon? What do they see if they see an Israeli soldier fire a weapon?
But the UN has said that this force will not be expected to wage war, as it put it, on any of the three parties involved. So we're still seeing what will happen there.
ELLIOTT: NPR's Jamie Tarabay.
Thanks so much.
TARABAY: You're welcome.
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