Irish UN workers warned Israelis of airstrike six times

It emerged today that the senior Irish officer in Lebanon, Lt. Col. John Molloy, contacted his liaison officer in the Israeli Defence Forces to express his concerns about nearby attacks six times prior to the destruction of a UN observer post in southern Lebanon by an Israeli airstrike.

Thirty-six hours earlier, an Irish soldier had been in the Unifil facility at Khiyam where the Finnish, Canadian, Chinese and Australian soldiers died.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said that it was extremely disquieting that Egyptian Unifil soldiers were fired on by Israelis as they tried to retrieve the bodies. One of the last strikes on the observation post hit the door, he added.

“All our evidence suggests that this was an incredible accident or in some way directly targeted,” continued Mr Ahern.

Defence Minister Willie O’Dea said he put it quite forcibly to the ambassador that the Irish Government was extremely upset about last night’s attack.

Mr O’Dea went on to pledge that Ireland’s 17 peacekeeping troops in Lebanon will not be withdrawn despite last night’s attack.

He made the pledge after he and Mr Ahern met Israeli Ambassador Daniel Megiddo to express the Government’s shock and anger at the incident.

The ministers said they conveyed their grave disquiet at the air strike in southern Lebanon and sought assurances about the safety of all troops in the region.

Mr O’Dea said after the 30-minute meeting at Iveagh House: “I think it is fair to say that moral is very high among the Irish troops. There is no question of withdrawing.

“We instanced our grave disquiet at what has happened. As far as we are concerned, from this incident and other pieces of evidence brought to us from personnel on the ground, Israelis at the very least were reckless in this region.

“The ambassador is under no illusion about the feeling of Ireland in this respect.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Megiddo said he gave the Irish Government his assurances, as far as possible, that further attacks on UN posts would be avoided.

“After all this is a war zone,” he said. “You cannot forget that.”

“We had a frank conversation not only about the incident of last night but the entire situation in Israel the last 14 days and who started it all.

“We mustn’t forget that. After all it was started by two soldiers being kidnapped from Israeli territory.

“They asked me to do the utmost for the safety of Unifil people and humanitarian workers in Lebanon and I will do that obviously.”

Mr O’Dea said: “It should be possible for the Israelis to do whatever they are doing out there without running a serious risk to the lives of people who are manning those observation posts in the interests of the Lebanese and the Israelis.”

The ministers said they thanked Mr Megiddo for assisting the evacuation of Irish citizens out of Lebanon and he stressed the need for safe channels for humanitarian aid.

Mr Ahern also passed on his sympathies by telephone to the Finnish foreign minister, whose government holds the EU presidency.

Mr Ahern will be attending an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers which has been called for August 1.

The Dundalk TD added that it would not be possible for an international stabilisation force to enter Lebanon now unless hostilities ceased completely.

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