Lebanon Military Court Charges Hezbollah Members with Killing of UN Peacekeeper

Lebanon's military court has charged five Hezbollah members with the killing of an Irish peacekeeper in December, a judicial official told AFP on Thursday.

The Irish soldier from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed and three others wounded on Dec. 14 when their vehicle was attacked near the village of al-Aqbiya, in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah has a strong presence.

Ten days later, the pro-Iranian group handed over to the authorities a man suspected of being the "main" perpetrator of the attack.

According to the military court's indictment, the five people "formed a criminal gang and implemented a criminal project." The indictment underlines that the actions of detainee Mohammad Ayyad and the four fugitives are punishable by death under the Lebanese penal code.

The 30-page indictment, seen by AFP, accuses the above-mentioned persons of "voluntary homicide." They have all been referred to the military court for trial.

Images from surveillance cameras near the scene of the attack show "clearly the patrol under attack from all sides, by armed men," according to the report. "Some of them were heard saying 'We are from Hezbollah,' and calling each other via walkie-talkies", the indictment added.

In January, seven people were charged with "making threats with an illegal weapon, destroying the UNIFIL vehicle and intimidating its passengers." A judicial source told AFP that the driver was killed instantly by a bullet to the head.

UNIFIL, comprising some 10,000 peacekeepers, has been deployed since 1978 to act as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel, which technically remain in a state of war.

Incidents have occurred in the past between peacekeeper patrols and supporters of Hezbollah, which cooperated in the investigation of this latest attack and offered its condolences to UNIFIL.