UN condemns death of Spanish ‘blue helmet’ but declines to place blame

Madrid military court opens its own inquiry into incident at Israel-Lebanon border Israeli armed forces refuse to say whether they warned mission about oncoming attack

Vehicles burn in the village of Ghayar, Lebanon, on Wednesday, when the incident between Israeli forces and Hezbollah occurred.
Vehicles burn in the village of Ghayar, Lebanon, on Wednesday, when the incident between Israeli forces and Hezbollah occurred.MARUF KHATIB / AFP

The United Nations has condemned the death of a Spanish peacekeeper in southern Lebanon on Wednesday, but failed to blame anyone for it.

A two-hour emergency session of the UN Security Council produced a press release in which its members “condemn in the strongest terms the death of a Spanish blue helmet from UNIFIL, which occurred in the context of an exchange of fire along the Blue Line.”

The statement was read by the Chilean ambassador to the UN, Cristián Barros, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council. Asked by reporters who the Council thought was to blame for the death, Barros said the topic had been the subject of “long discussions” and that a new statement would be released in the coming hours. The international organization has launched an investigation into the case.

The government’s hand will not tremble in asking  for accountability”

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo

Besides the UN probe, a military court in Madrid has also opened an inquiry. The judge, Commander María Mercedes Alba Rodríguez, will authorize the autopsy and burial or cremation.

A Spanish military aircraft flew the body out of Beirut on Thursday and landed in Morón de la Frontera air base (Seville), where Toledo Soria’s remains were taken by helicopter to Córdoba airport. Defense Minister Pedro Morenés was on hand to pay his condolences to the family of the deceased.

The funeral is set for Friday at the military base of Guzmán El Bueno, in Cerro Muriano (Córdoba), where the deceased was permanently stationed. Soria Toledo will be decorated posthumously by the Spanish army, and has received a UN medal as well as three medals from the Lebanese army.

Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, 36, was killed by an Israeli mortar, military sources reported. The Israeli attack was aimed at Hezbollah in retaliation for a prior attack by the Shiite militant group in which two Israeli soldiers died.

The ‘blue helmet’ was killed near the village of Ghayar, around 20 kilometers from Marjayoun, where the Spanish UN contingent of around 500 soldiers is based. His body was due to be flown back to Spain on Thursday afternoon.

Soria Toledo was part of UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, created to certify Israel’s withdrawal from that country. He was stationed at position 4-28, a detachment with over 50 military personnel whose coordinates the Israeli army is fully familiar with. The victim was alone at his sentry post.

The Spanish government said Israeli authorities have apologized for the death of Soria Toledo, who was married and about to have a child.

The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, phoned his Spanish counterpart José Manuel García-Margallo to express his condolences and to blame the Shiite militia and the Lebanese government for failing to prevent attacks against Israel from their territory.

Margallo has asked Liberman for cooperation investigating the case, and told the media that when he had all the information at hand, the government would “not tremble in asking for accountability.”

The Israeli army usually warns UNIFIL when it is about to launch an attack, but on this occasion it failed to do so as it responded immediately to the ambush by Hezbollah, sources familiar with the situation said.

UNIFIL asked for a ceasefire to send a medical team to the site of the shelling, but by the time medics arrived the Spanish peacekeeper was dead.

A spokesman for the Israeli armed forces declined to tell EL PAÍS whether UNIFIL had been warned about the oncoming attack.

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