Israel, Spain to Launch Joint Probe Into Spanish Soldier's Death in Lebanon

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A Spanish UN official takes pictures of an observation tower damaged during a border flare-up between Israel and Hezbollah on Wednesday, Lebanon, Jan. 29, 2015.Credit: AP

The Israeli and Spanish armies will conduct a joint investigation into the death of a Spanish soldier who served in the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon and was killed in an exchange of fire between Israel and Hezbollah last Wednesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy on Friday and conveyed his condolences and sorrow for the death of the Spanish soldier. He also thanked Rajoy for the Spanish presence in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The decision to hold the joint investigation was made during that call.

Rajoy, on his part, conveyed his condolences for the death of two Israeli soldiers, killed by Hezbollah fire on Wednesday, the Spanish PM's office stated.

The conversation between Netanyahu and Rajoy was the peak of Israel's conciliatory efforts vis-à-vis Madrid since the death of the Spanish soldier. The Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, announced on Wednesday that Spain is demanding the UN hold a quick and thorough probe of the incident, and laid the responsibility for the soldier's death at Israel's doorstep.

Jerusalem wishes to avoid a diplomatic crisis with Spain. This is because of the central role Spanish soldiers have in UNIFIL and because Spain will be a UN Security Council temporary member starting in January, and will vote on many Israel-related issues in the coming two years.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon talked with his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Morenés, and conveyed his condolences to the soldier's family and to the Spanish people. Ya'alon told Morenes that Hezbollah attacked an Israeli force with anti-tank missiles, and that the Spanish soldier, who was manning a post between the sides, was killed when the Israeli army returned fire.

Israel is investigating the incident and will cooperate with UNIFIL and with the Spanish officers to get the full picture, Ya'alon told Morenes, and promised to share the investigation report once it's completed.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called his Spanish counterpart to convey Israel's condolences for the death of the Spanish soldier, and said Hezbollah is to blame for the attack, and that Israel considers the Lebanese government responsible for any attack out of its territory. The Spanish foreign minister told Lieberman that Spain requests Israel to fully cooperate with the UNIFIL investigation.

On Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi met with Spanish Ambassador to Israel Fernando Carderera Soler and he too relayed the same conciliatory messages. Israel's ambassador to Spain, Alon Bar, spoke with the Spanish foreign minister as well.

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