PM Expresses Regret to Merkel Over IAF Incident in S. Lebanon

Olmert: German contribution to UN observers in Lebanon is vital, meets in J'lem with Bundstag delegation.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday expressed his regret to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the incident on Tuesday in which Israel Air Force jets were scrambled towards a German army helicopter flying in Southern Lebanon.

Olmert told his German counterpart in a phone call conversation that Israel saw Germany's contribution to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon as vitally important.

Earlier, the prime minister met in Jerusalem with a delegation of Bundestag members from Merkel's Christian-Democratic party. During their meeting, Olmert briefed the German visitors on the incident, expressed his regret and emphasized the importance Israel sees in cooperating with UNIFIL.

He added that from now on Israel Defense Forces will open direct channels of communication with the German contingent in UNIFIL to make sure such incidents do not recur.

On Tuesday, German press reported that IAF planes had fired twice on German naval battleships off the coast of Lebanon. The IDF denied the reports, but confirmed that planes had been scrambled towards the ship and released flares which may have been misconstrued as missiles.

An IDF spokesperson said the planes approached the ship because a German helicopter flying in the area failed to report its movements according to prior agreements with Israel.

On Friday, Germany's Bild-Zeitung newspaper reported a second case in which IAF planes approached a German army helicopter in southern Lebanon.

In the wake of the incidents, Germany's Defense Minister, Franz Josef Jung, plans to visit the Middle East on Friday to meet with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and with Lebanese Prime Minister, Fuad Siniora.