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Lebanon charges five men over killing of Irish peacekeeping soldier

Lebanon charges five men over killing of Irish peacekeeping soldier

Lebanon’s military tribunal on Thursday charged five men with the killing of an Irish UN peacekeeper in December, a senior judicial official said.

The official said all five are linked to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

The charges follow a six-month investigation after an attack on a UN peacekeeping convoy near the town of Al-Aqbiya in the south of Lebanon, a stronghold of Hezbollah.

The shooting resulted in the death of Private Seán Rooney (24), of Newtowncunningham in Co Donegal, and seriously wounded Private Shane Kearney (22).

The wounded peacekeeper was medically evacuated to Ireland. Two other Irish soldiers sustained light injuries.

The charges include evidence from bystanders’ statements, as well as audio recordings and video footage from surveillance cameras, the Lebanese official said.

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

Hezbollah has denied any role in the killing, and a spokesman for the group declined to comment on Thursday.

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

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

Private Rooney and several other Irish peacekeepers were on their way from their base in the south to Beirut airport.

Two UN vehicles apparently took a detour 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.

The UN peacekeeper vehicle reportedly took a wrong turn and was surrounded by vehicles and armed men as they tried to make their way back to the main road.

UNIFIL spokeswoman Andrea Tenenti said the charges were an “important step towards justice”.

“Attacks on men and women serving the cause of peace are serious crimes and can never be tolerated,” she told the AP.

“We look forward to justice for Private Rooney, his injured colleagues, and their families.”

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 2006 war between Israel and Iran-backed 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.