Villagers Attack UN Peacekeepers in Southern Lebanon

Hezbollah lawmaker Mohammed Raad has criticized UNIFIL forces for entering the villages, saying they have no authority to do so.

Two United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon and two civilians were slightly injured Saturday when villagers in the south of the country attacked a UN patrol, police said.

A UN patrol in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah clashed with Israel in 2006

Residents of Toulin blocked the road in front a French patrol belonging to the UN Interim Force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) and attempted to disarm the soldiers, according to police.

A witness, who asked not to be identified, said the UN soldiers were taking pictures of the area when several young supporters of the militant Shi'ite Hezbollah movement asked them to stop.

He added that UNIFIL members fired shots in the air to disperse them, but the move angered the youths who then attacked the peacekeepers and took away their guns.

Two UN troops and two locals sustained minor injuries, the police said.

Tension has increased in recent months between the UNIFIL peacekeepers and residents in Lebanon's south, a stronghold of the militant Hezbollah group near the border with Israel.

Some Western diplomats say Hezbollah members have encouraged and participated in the confrontations - a charge the movement denies - and a UN official said there had been several incidents in the last week.

"Some of these may have been something spontaneous in the street, but some were clearly organized," UN special coordinator for Lebanon told reporters on Thursday.

The sources said Saturday's incident occurred after a UNIFIL patrol arrested a youth following an argument in the village of Kabrikha. When they took him to a nearby town their patrol was surrounded by angry residents who disarmed them.

Lebanese army forces then intervened and the weapons were returned to UNIFIL and the youth was released, an army spokesman said. A UNIFIL spokesman was unable to comment on the incident.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that Israel's allegations that Hezbollah had received Scud missiles from Syria had "resulted in increased tension" in the region. Syria has rejected the missile allegation.

Ban's latest report to the UN Security Council on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701, which halted hostilities in the Israeli-Hezbollah war in 2006, noted several tense confrontations between UNIFIL peacekeepers and civilians.

Ban's report on Friday said there was reason for "doubt on the motives of those (civilians) involved" in some incidents.

Hezbollah deputy leader Naim Qassem denied the group was linked to the confrontations, saying they were the result of a lack of coordination between UNIFIL and the Lebanese army.

"The situation can be calmed by a change in the conduct of the international forces," Qassem said in an interview published in Ad-Diyar newspaper on Saturday.

Resolution 1701, which halted hostilities in the Israeli-Hezbollah war in 2006, calls for a stop to arms smuggling and bans all unauthorized weapons between the Litani River and the Blue Line, the UN-monitored border between Israel and Lebanon.

Israel has criticized UNIFIL for not stopping weapons it says are flowing to Hezbollah guerrillas. The UN says that is the responsibility of the Lebanese authorities.