Shatter begins Middle East tour with medal presentation to Irish troops in Lebanon

Israeli officials to press Minister for Defence for more robust Unifil role on Hizbullah

A file photograph of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter who will spend most of this week visiting Israel. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill.

A file photograph of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter who will spend most of this week visiting Israel. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill.

Mon, Mar 11, 2013, 21:12

Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter has praised Ireland ’s contribution to peacekeeping efforts in south Lebanon.

Mr Shatter began his visit to the region yesterday. He will spend most of this week in Israel visiting the Irish contingent of the Un ited Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).

Following the presentation of UN medals to members of the joint Irish/Finnish battalion serving with Unifil, he thanked them for their contribution to peace and security in south Lebanon.

“I am glad to have had this opportunity to express my own personal appreciation and that of the Government for the incredible work you are doing here”, he told the troops.

“Your work and your actions here reflect very positively on Ireland. I say this not to put any greater pressure on you but to let you know how deeply we value what you do and how enormously proud we are of you.”

The UN medal is presented to all troops who complete a tour of duty on a UN mission, in recognition of their service to the cause of international peace and security. Sixty-one Irish soldiers received their first UN medal at yesterday’s ceremony.

Mr Shatter met Unifil commander Maj-Gen Paolo Serra of Italy and was briefed on latest developments in the area. He also laid a wreath at the memorial at Tibnin for the 47 Irish soldiers who have lost their lives during peacekeeping missions in Lebanon.

The visit to the Irish troops was the first stop of Mr Shatter’s St Patrick’s Day tour of the Middle East. He arrives in Israel today and will also visit the West Bank.

In Israel he will visit the Golan Heights, captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 six-day war. Irish troops serving with the UN Truce Supervision Organisation are based there.

Mr Shatter is being accompanied by Defence Forces chief of staff Lieut Gen Seán McCann and Department of Defence assistant secretary Ciaran Murphy. An Israeli diplomatic source said Israeli officials will press for a more robust Unifil role during their talks with Mr Shatter, particularly in relation to preventing arms reaching Hizbullah fighters in south Lebanon.

Jerusalem will also use the visit to argue against moves by European Union states to separately label products manufactured in parts of the West Bank occupied by Israel.