Taoiseach visits Irish troops in Lebanon

Kenny will also hold talks with Lebanese prime minister Tammam Salam today

Irish peackeepers in Lebanon: “The region has stabilised but it can still kick off; all it takes is one little incident.

Irish peackeepers in Lebanon: “The region has stabilised but it can still kick off; all it takes is one little incident.

 

The 10km drive from the headquarters of the joint Finnish-Irish battalion headquarters near At-tiri in South Lebanon to the Irish outpost, UNP 6-52, on the boundary with Israel, shows some tangible indications of stability in the area, even as darker movements are not too far away.

Palatial homes are springing up around the town of Bint Jbeil, near where the Israeli advance during the summer war of 2006 was halted.

“A lot of the houses are being built as summer homes by wealthy Lebanese,” says Gunner Dean O’Farrell. “The region has stabilised but it can still kick off; all it takes is one little incident.”

Cars parked outside cafes in the town bear livery in support of the German football team competing in the World Cup, with many Lebanese supporting the Germans just to spite the Israelis. Yet, given the ongoing war in Syria, just 40km away, there is some increased concern.

Cmdt Colin Miller is in charge of the company from which the 28 Irish peacekeeping troops at the UNP 6-52 outpost are drawn.

‘Concern’

UNP 6-52 looks into Syria as well as Israel, and Cmndt Miller says there is “concern” that regional tensions could spillover into Lebanon.

“There is concern, I think it’s fair enough to say that,” Cmndt Miller, who regularly engages with community leaders, said yesterday. “It’s openly known and Hizbollah have acknowledged they are fighting for Assad in Syria.

“They are fighting against the Free Syria Army which is mostly made up of Sunnis, and this is a Shia-dominated area and it would be a possible target.

Emergency funding

It is against this backdrop that Enda Kenny will become the first Taoiseach to visit Irish troops in the Lebanon since Bertie Ahern in 1999. Mr Kenny, who is currently Minister for Defence, will also hold talks with Lebanese prime minister Tammam Salam this morning.

The Taoiseach will announce an additional €2 million in emergency funding to assist Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Mr Kenny will also lay a wreath at the Irish UN peacekeeping memorial in Tibnin for the 47 Irish personnel who have died while serving in Lebanon.