French troops 'came close to shooting down Israeli jets'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The French government has demanded that Israel stop mock raids over Lebanon after French peacekeepers came within seconds of shooting down Israeli warplanes.

Israeli officials said the flights were needed to monitor Lebanese compliance with UN demands, but the French Defence Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, said the attitude of the Israeli planes was "absolutely inadmissible" after Israeli F-15 fighters nose-dived repeatedly over French peacekeepers' positions in southern Lebanon on 31 October.

"Our troops barely avoided a catastrophe," Alliot-Marie told the French parliament. "Our troops find themselves in a position where they have to fire in legitimate self defence."

Defence Ministry officials would not elaborate on why the French troops decided not to fire, nor explain why they waited eight days to announce the incident.

The mock raids by warplanes last week were Israel's strongest show of force since August.

In response to the incident, the French Defence Ministry has demanded that the flights are stopped.

Unifil reported 14 Israeli air violations on 31 October, including three over the headquarters of the French battalion in Froun.

Milos Strugar, senior adviser to the Unifil commander, said the flights violated resolution 1701, which calls for both sides to respect the UN boundary drawn by the UN after Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.

Israeli military officials reiterated yesterday that the flights were for intelligence gathering.