BEIRUT (AP) — The Lebanese army has arrested a suspect in the killing of a United Nations peacekeeper from Ireland earlier this month after his convoy was shot in southern Lebanon, officials said Tuesday. died.
The area where the Dec. 14 shooting took place, near the southern town of Al-Aqbiya, is a center of support for Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group, which has denied any role in the killings.
Hezbollah spokeswoman Lana Sahili said on Friday that the Lebanese army “cooperated with Hezbollah” to arrest the suspect, who was not a member of the militant group.
Two Lebanese security officials who confirmed the arrest, speaking on the condition of anonymity in accordance with regulations, said the killing was being investigated. They did not identify or provide any details about the suspect.
Initially, the military detained three people in connection with the attack but released two who were not found to be involved in the killing, one of the security officials said.
Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping operation known as UNIFIL, said peacekeepers had not received “official information” about any arrests.
On the fateful night, 24-year-old Pvt. Sean Rooney of Newtown cunningham and several other Irish peacekeepers are on their way from their southern base to Beirut airport. Two UN vehicles apparently took a detour through Egbia, which is not part of the peacekeepers’ mission area.
A mob of angry residents confronted the peacekeepers, claiming they were outside their jurisdiction, and opened fire on their vehicles, according to earlier reports. Confrontations between residents of southern Lebanon and UNIFIL are not uncommon.
However, one of the two security officials said the arrested suspect was part of a group that followed the U.N. convoy from the town of Saravand, about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away, suggesting it was a targeted attack attack.
Conflicting reports about the attack could not immediately be reconciled.
Rooney was buried in Ireland last week, while another Irish peacekeeper injured in the attack, 22-year-old Pvt. Shane Kearney was medically evacuated to Ireland from Lebanon.
UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon following the 1978 invasion. Following Israel’s 2006 war with Iran-backed Hezbollah, the United Nations expanded its mission to allow peacekeepers to be deployed along Israel’s border to help the Lebanese army extend its power to the south of the country for the first time in decades.
Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon often accuse the UN mission of colluding with Israel, while Israel accuses peacekeepers of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah’s military activities in southern Lebanon.
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