November 10, 2006
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Twelve Israeli jets violated Lebanese airspace on Thursday, a few hours after Paris summoned Israel’s ambassador in protest over Israeli warplanes diving on French UN peacekeepers in the South, the Lebanese Army said. The fighter-bombers entered Lebanon at 12:25 p.m. and flew high over the coastal town of Naqoura, headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) near the borders with Israel, an army statement said.
They then flew over other Southern regions before flying at a lower altitude over the eastern city of Baalbek, the army added. The 12 planes left Lebanese airspace at 1 p.m. after flying over Tripoli and Akkar in the North.
France on Thursday summoned Israeli ambassador Daniel Shek to complain about an incident in which Israeli warplanes dived menacingly on French UN peacekeepers, officials said.
French officials said Israeli military aircraft dived toward
French troops serving with UNIFIL, who came very close to opening fire.
Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Wednesday the French troops had been within “two seconds” of firing on the aircraft and a “catastrophe” was narrowly avoided.
“When an Israeli aircraft recently ‘dived’ on French UNIFIL soldiers, it is a miracle that nothing serious happened, because there could have been a response on the part of French troops,” Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Wednesday.
Defense Ministry officials would also not elaborate on why the French troops decided not to fire, nor explain why they waited eight days to announce the incident.
The planes were “in attack position,” a spokesman for the chief of staff, Captain Christophe Prazuck, told reporters Thursday. French troops responded by readying an anti-aircraft missile, and were seconds away from firing on the warplanes, he said.
Prazuck said: “Thanks to the sang froid of French soldiers, we avoided a catastrophe.”
A senior French officer with UNIFIL insisted that an “Israeli Army provocation” took place.
“The Israeli aircraft carried out a simulated attack,” the official told AFP.
“It appears that these flights were deliberate. UNIFIL strongly protested to the Israeli authorities and asked them to cease these actions which are unacceptable and in violation of Resolution 1701,” said Milos Strugar, senior adviser to the UNIFIL commander.
However, according to Israel’s ambassador to France, the Israeli overflight was “not aggressive” and had been “wrongly interpreted.”
“All Israeli flights over Lebanon have one sole purpose, they are reconnaissance flights. There is no exception to the rule,” Daniel Shek told AFP Thursday.
“It seems one of these flights was wrongly interpreted by the French force,” he said.
France, which currently leads UNIFIL, has accused Israel of violating the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought about an end to hostilities, by sending its warplanes over Lebanon.
It has also noted that UNIFIL has a robust mandate allowing it to respond to aggressive moves by either Hizbullah or Israel.
The Israeli military on Thursday said it had no knowledge of any such incident. Defense Minister Amir Peretz has said the overflights were necessary to monitor what he charged was continuing arms smuggling by Hizbullah.
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said on Thursday that Israel wanted to “take revenge on Lebanon after its humiliating withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000.”
During an interview with an Algerian radio station, Lahoud said: “Israel is defying all UN resolutions by its continuous sea, air and land violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty.” – Additional reporting by Nafez Qawas, agencies