The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Beirut alarm bells for Indian troops

New Delhi, July 26: The killing of four UN staffers in southern Lebanon by the Israeli Defence Force was deliberate and emphasises that the lives of the peacekeepers ' including Indian soldiers ' are at serious risk, according to information received from the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon this evening.

Israeli artillery and aircraft pounded the UN observation post in El Khaim, killing and burying the observers under the debris.

“The whole place is now a mess,” Brigadier Jai Prakash Nehra, the deputy force commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) told The Telegraph from Naqoura, the mission headquarters.

“Troops from the Indbatt (Indian battalion) were pressed into service for rescue soon after the observation post went out of communication, that is around 7.15 pm on Tuesday evening. So far, three bodies have been recovered from the debris, search is on for the fourth observer. It will be a miracle if he has survived.

“No Indian soldier has been hurt in this incident. The four observers were from Austria, Canada, China and Finland,” he said.

The foreign ministry’s assertion in New Delhi today that the 673 Indian soldiers with the 5 Sikh battalion group on Unifil duty will not be asked to pull back or that India will not retreat should be seen in the context of the Israeli attacks on the international force being deliberate.

Information received by The Telegraph suggests that the Israeli forces deliberately targeted the UN position despite being told repeatedly that it was manned by international observers.

This is also corroborated by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who told a meeting in Rome today: “This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long-established and clearly marked UN post at El Khaim occurred despite personal assurances given to me by [Israeli] Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would be spared Israeli fire.

“Furthermore, General Alain Pellegrino, the UN force commander in south Lebanon, had been in repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular UN position from attack.”

Brigadier Nehra described the attack on the Unifil patrolling base at El Khaim village as a “serious situation”.

The base had four unarmed officers of different nationalities who were part of the UN Truce Supervision Organisation that is headquartered in Jerusalem.

Unifil’s mandate runs out on Monday but the UN Security Council is understood to be considering an extension by at least a month.

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