A powerful roadside bomb struck a U.N. peacekeeping patrol in the Lebanese coastal town of Tyre on Friday, wounding five French soldiers and a civilian, a security official said.
The official, who requested anonymity, said the bomb was hidden under dirt on the side of the road and was detonated as the soldiers were driving by in a Jeep at an intersection in the eastern part of the southern town.
The French Foreign Minister condemned the attack, saying France would not be intimidated by such “vile acts” while the Lebanese President vowed to find those responsible.
Two of the wounded soldiers were taken to hospital while the three others ─ a woman and two men ─ were seen by an AFP correspondent standing by their badly damaged vehicle with bandages on their heads.
The blast left a one-meter (three-foot) deep crater. Security forces cordoned off the area as hundreds of onlookers gathered nearby.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement: “I condemn in the strongest terms the cowardly attack that was carried out against UNIFIL (U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon) this morning.”
The chief of staff in Paris said four peacekeepers were “very lightly wounded” and the fifth “a bit more seriously” but without life-threatening injuries.
France is “determined to continue its involvement with UNIFIL (and) will not be intimidated by such vile acts,” Juppe said.
UNIFIL patrols have been the target of a string of unclaimed roadside bomb attacks in recent years, including two previously in 2011.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, meanwhile, called on French peacekeeping forces to stay in his country and vowed to find those responsible for the attack.
“I am confident that a country such as France, which spares no efforts to achieve peace in the entire world, will not yield to such a provocation,” he said at a joint press conference with Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian.
“I am confident that a country such as France, which spares no efforts to achieve peace in the entire world, will not yield to such a provocation,” Suleiman said in the Armenian capital Yerevan.
Suleiman vowed that the Lebanese authorities would make serious efforts to track down and detain the attackers.
“Lebanon’s security agencies will do everything to find and arrest those responsible for the explosion and to prevent the repeat of such tragedies in the future,” he said.
Friday’s blast came amid heightened tension over the bloody uprising in neighboring Syria, with some warning the unrest could spill over into Lebanon, whose government is dominated by pro-Syrian militant group Hezbollah.
There have been constant fears that the UNIFIL force stationed in the south of the country would be an easy target should the unrest reach Lebanon.
The 12,000-strong UNIFIL force was first deployed in 1978 and was expanded after a devastating 2006 war in Lebanon between Israel and Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Last July, five French UNIFIL troops soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, in a similar attack in the southern coastal town of Sidon.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack.