French Forces Almost Fired On Israeli Jets

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 10, 2006

PARIS, Nov. 9 -- French peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon came within seconds of firing missiles at Israeli F-15 fighter jets that repeatedly dived on their positions last week, according to French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy summoned Israel's ambassador to Paris to his office on Thursday to express "serious concern" about the incident and demand that Israel halt its flights over southern Lebanon.

"Our troops barely avoided a catastrophe," Alliot-Marie told the lower house of France's Parliament on Wednesday night in remarks broadcast Thursday. "In legitimate defense, our soldiers removed the covers from the missile battery and were two seconds away from firing at the planes that were threatening them."

A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv said reports of the Oct. 31 incident were under investigation.

The United Nations and France, which leads the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, have repeatedly protested Israel's flights over the area, saying they are a violation of the cease-fire that ended this summer's 33-day war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.

Israeli officials say the flights are needed to monitor Lebanon's compliance with U.N. mandates that it prevent the smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah.

But U.N. peacekeepers reported 14 violations by Israeli aircraft last week during mock raids, including three over the headquarters of French troops in the southern Lebanese town of Froun.

French officials said the warplanes dived toward the ground, then jerked skyward in maneuvers that could be used to drop bombs or fire on ground forces.

The planes were "clearly in attack position," the French defense minister said.

The French complaints follow allegations that Israeli fighters fired over a German warship off the Lebanese coast, which Israel denied, and a report of a non-hostile encounter between Israeli F-16 fighters and a German helicopter.

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