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File photo: Irish peacekeepers in Lebanon
keeping the peace

Irish peacekeepers in Lebanon at risk from 'jihadist threat' says top general

Major General Michael Beary said that UN forces were wary of returning jihadists from Syria.

IRISH PEACEKEEPERS STATIONED in south Lebanon are at risk of being targeted by militant jihadists, according to the Irish General who commands the UN force in the country.

More than 300 Irish soldiers currently serve in Lebanon and “the biggest concern”, according to United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Major General Michael Beary, is the “jihadist threat”.

He told RTÉ’s This Week programme: “Definitely, we would be a target for that kind of activity because a lot of member states who are contributing to UNIFIL are part of the global coalition against ISIS, so it is something I have to be very careful with.

Our indications would certainly be that, with the retrenchment of ISIS and such groups as Nusra in Syria and in Iraq, that there is the possibility that they will seek to exit through Lebanon.

“We do know, for example, that we have Sunnite jihadists within the body of some of the Palestinian refugee camps, so we have to be extremely careful with that to ensure that it doesn’t affect the work of UNIFIL in south Lebanon.”

UN peacekeepers are stationed in south Lebanon and the UNIFIL mission monitors the ceasefire line which separates Lebanon and Israel.

Mideast Lebanon UN Major General Michael Beary Hassan Ammar AP / Press Association Images Hassan Ammar AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Beary said that the potential return of “very hardened fighters” of the Hezbollah militant group from Syria was a worry, but hoped that initiatives put in place by UNIFIL to interact with the local communities in south Lebanon would be effective at preventing fighting in the future.

“Instead of the concept of resistance,” he said, “we try to build the concept of resistance to war”.

UNIFIL forces began to work alongside Lebanese armed forces to maintain peace in the region under a UN resolution passed after the 2006 war with Israel.

Earlier this month, civilians attacked a number of UN peacekeepers out on patrol in the region. None were injured but several vehicles were damaged.

“Civilians attempted to block the way of UNIFIL patrols and attacked the peacekeepers,” a UNIFIL statement said.

UNIFIL patrol vehicles had to push aside some civilian vehicles used as roadblocks in order to safely pull out from the locations.

Beary added that Irish peacekeepers have made a significant contribution to peace in south Lebanon since 1978.

Ireland was also not included in a recent report from the UN, which singled out countries that did not live up to their commitments on peacekeeping contributions.

With reporting from AFP - © – AFP 2017

Read: Ireland is sending 130 soldiers into one of “the most dangerous UN missions in the world”

Read: “It should never have happened”: Irish soldiers’ forgotten battle told in Siege of Jadotville

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