Irish soldier serving as UN peacekeeper in Lebanon killed in convoy attack

A United Nations helicopter takes off from the UNIFIL headquarters for a patrol over the Blue Line, a U.N.-drawn boundary between Lebanon and Israel, in the costal town of Naqoura, in 2018. Credit: AP

An Irish soldier serving as a UN peacekeeper in Lebanon was killed when his convoy came under attack on Wednesday evening. Another soldier injured in the incident is in a serious condition in hospital having undergone surgery. Two other peacekeepers were treated for minor injuries. The soldiers were part of 121st Infantry Battalion, which comprises 333 Irish soldiers, that was deployed in November 2022 to South Lebanon as part of the Unifil (United Nation Interim Force in Lebanon).

A convoy of two armoured vehicles en route to Beirut came under small arms fire at around 9.15pm GMT on Wednesday night. All four soldiers injured in the attack were taken to Raee Hospital, near Sidon, following the incident. The peacekeeper who suffered fatal injuries was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Four other soldiers in the convoy were uninjured in the attack. The Irish Defence Forces said the name of the soldier who was killed is not being released at this time, but that his family has been informed.

The Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Sean Clancy, expressed shock and sadness at the “tragic event”. “Our thoughts are with his family, his friends and his fellow peacekeepers from the 121st Infantry Battalion,” he said. “Our thoughts are also with those who were injured last night and their families and friends. “We have one of our medical officers currently at Raee Hospital and we will ensure that our personnel get the best possible care. “Our focus now is to ensure the safety and continued support for all our personnel deployed in Lebanon.” The Defence Forces said a full investigation will commence into the incident. The 121st Infantry Battalion is part of a multinational battalion, comprising Irish, Maltese, Polish and Hungarian personnel. The UN’s peacekeeping mission in Lebanon was established in 1978 following Israel’s invasion of the country. Irish President Michael D Higgins offered his “deepest condolences” to the family of the dead soldier", while Irish premier Micheal Martin said he extended "his family our deepest sympathies for the terrible loss they have suffered".

The Irish defence minister, Simon Coveney, is in New York for a UN security council meeting. Credit: PA

Irish Defence Minister Simon Coveney said the soldier is “a young man who has lost his life in service of Ireland and of the UN”. “This is a shocking and tragic incident and of course we have an investigation under way,” he said, expressing his condolences to the man’s family and relatives of the other soldiers. Mr Coveney said the incident happened during a two-and-a-half-hour journey he has also travelled during trips to the UN peacekeeping camp in Lebanon. “Essentially what happened, we think, was two armoured personnel vehicles were travelling from our main camp in southern Lebanon to Beirut. It was a standard administrative run, as it’s called in military terms,” he told RTE Radio. “And the two armoured vehicles effectively got separated. One of them got surrounded by a hostile mob – I think that’s the only way you could describe them – and shots were fired and unfortunately one of our peacekeepers was killed. “This is a very serious incident. We haven’t had a fatality in the Defence Forces on peacekeeping missions for over two decades.” He said that he has been to Unifil three times in the last two years and Mr Martin has also been to the UN camp.

Unifil was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after a 1978 invasion.

Mr Coveney, who is currently in New York for a UN Security Council meeting, said he intends to meet UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss a “full investigation” into the incident.

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