Six Spanish peacekeepers in southern Lebanon were killed over the weekend in an apparent car bombing. These deaths are the first peacekeeper fatalities since UNIFIL expanded its operations in southern Lebanon following last summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah forces. The culprits are unknown at this point. Hezbollah has condemned the attacks. But Fatah al-Islam–the militant group battling the Lebanese army forces in a refugee camp near Beirut–has previously accused UNIFIL of attacking the camp, so it would seem they are the target of immediate suspicions.
These fatalities highlight the unique force structure of peacekeeping in Lebanon. UNIFIL does not quite resemble other peacekeeping missions, where soldiers from South Asian countries typically make up the bulk of the forces. UNIFIL, out of design, is predominantly European. As a condition of the August 14, 2006 ceasefire agreement, the Israeli government demanded that countries with sophisticated military capacities help fill the security void once Israel withdrew its own soldiers. Sending American troops there was a non-starter, so France, Spain, Italy and other European countries stepped up. The deaths over the weekend are a sad reminder of Europe’s commitment to help keep the peace in the second-most volatile country in the Middle East.