Home ireland Hezbollah criticises judge for alleging group linked to Irish UN peacekeeper’s death

Hezbollah criticises judge for alleging group linked to Irish UN peacekeeper’s death

Hezbollah criticises judge for alleging group linked to Irish UN peacekeeper’s death

Hezbollah has criticised a Lebanese judge for alleging members of the militant group were behind last year’s killing of an Irish UN peacekeeper, saying the powerful faction “had absolutely no relation to the incident”.

The comments by Hezbollah’s chief spokesperson Mohammed Afif came a day after Lebanon’s military tribunal charged five men with the killing of Private Sean Rooney in the south of Lebanon, a stronghold of the Iran-backed group.

The charges allege all five men are linked to Hezbollah.

It follows a six-month investigation into an attack on a UN peacekeeping convoy near the town of Al-Aqbiya in December.

The shooting resulted in the death of Pte Rooney (24) and seriously wounded Private Shane Kearney (22).

The wounded peacekeeper was medically evacuated to Ireland, while two other Irish soldiers sustained light injuries.

“We had nothing to do with the incident,” Afif said. He added that the investigative judge at the military tribunal, Fadi Sawwan, “is intentionally offending Hezbollah”.

A judicial official said on Thursday that the charges include evidence from bystanders’ statements, as well as audio recordings and video footage from surveillance cameras.

In some of the recordings of the confrontation, the gunmen reportedly could be heard telling the peacekeepers that they are from Hezbollah.

One of the five charged, Mohamad Ayyad, is currently in custody of Lebanese authorities.

The four others facing charges, Ali Khalifeh, Ali Salman, Hussein Salman, and Mustafa Salman, are at large.

Afif refused to say whether any of the charged men are Hezbollah members. He said Ayyad “was one of the residents who were there during the incident”.

The spokesperson added that Hezbollah helped after the incident in “reducing tension through contacts” between the army and the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon known as UNIFIL.

He added that Hezbollah later co-ordinated between residents and the military judiciary to hand over Ayyad.

“The incident was not intentional and was not pre-meditated. Hezbollah had absolutely no relation to the incident,” Afif said.

Pte Rooney and several other Irish soldiers with UNIFIL were on their way from their southern base to the Beirut airport. Two UN vehicles reportedly took a wrong turn through Al-Aqbiya, which is not part of the area under the peacekeepers’ mandate.

Initial reports said angry residents confronted the peacekeepers, but the charges conclude that the shooting was a targeted attack.

UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said on Thursday that the charges were an “important step towards justice”.

UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after Israel’s 1978 invasion.

The UN expanded its mission following the 34-day 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, allowing peacekeepers to deploy along the Israeli border to help the Lebanese military extend its authority into the country’s south for the first time in decades.

Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon frequently accuse the UN mission of collusion with Israel, while Israel has accused the peacekeepers of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah’s military activities in southern Lebanon.