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Lebanon charges seven suspects in killing of UN peacekeeper

BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanon’s military tribunal on Thursday charged seven suspects in last month’s attack that killed an Irish peacekeeper when a group of armed local residents ambushed his convoy and opened fire, officials said.

The shooting took place near the town of Al-Aqbiya in southern Lebanon, a centre of support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has denied any role in the killing.

The attack killed Private Seán Rooney, 24, of Newtowncunningham, Ireland, and seriously wounded Private Shane Kearney, 22.

The wounded peacekeeper was medically evacuated from Lebanon to Ireland. Two other Irish troops in the vehicle sustained light injuries.

In late December, the Lebanese military arrested a suspect, allegedly “in cooperation with Hezbollah”, according to the group, which said the man was not a Hezbollah member.

File photo shows members of the French contingent of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at their base in the southern Lebanese village of Deir Kifa. PHOTO: AFP

The arrested man and six others were charged in the attack, according to a judicial official familiar with the investigation, a legal official following the case, and a military official.

All spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

The officials said that a search is underway for the other six suspects and that officials are trying to determine whether they had left the country.

The Lebanese military in a brief statement said the case was transferred to the “appropriate judiciary” on Tuesday, but did mention the charges or other developments.

The United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, also known as UNIFIL, told The Associated Press that it has not received information about the arrest or the charges in the case.

Hezbollah did not immediately respond to inquiries about the latest developments.

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

The UN expanded its mission following the 2006 war between Israel and 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.