NICOSIA, Cyprus — Gunmen opened fire on three French Embassy guards in the Christian section of Beirut on Thursday, killing two of them and critically wounding the third.
According to news agency reports from Beirut, the three men--a French army officer, a sergeant and a private--were ambushed while parked near a vegetable stall in the Dora area of East Beirut by men in a red automobile.
In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned what he termed "this odious attack."
Eyewitnesses said the soldiers, who were armed, attempted to return the fire, but the attackers sped away, leaving the three men for dead in their French army jeep.
Gunmen from the right-wing Christian militia, the Lebanese Forces, quickly sealed off the area. Motorists driving to work abandoned their cars in fright.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The victims were part of a large paramilitary contingent in Lebanon to guard the French Embassy in the hills of East Beirut. Like most other countries, the French government moved the embassy from mostly Muslim West Beirut in 1985 after a number of Westerners were kidnaped.
In September last year, gunmen murdered the French military attache, Col. Christian Goutterre, 60, near the embassy compound in Hazmieh. A group calling itself the Revenge and Justice Front claimed responsibility for that attack. But it was widely believed to have been connected to the arrest in Paris of a radical Christian Lebanese, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, who was accused of carrying out a wave of terrorist incidents in France.
Abdallah, who is from Tripoli in northern Lebanon, was sentenced to life in prison by a French court earlier this year.
French troops came to Lebanon in 1982 as part of a multinational peacekeeping force. On Oct. 23, 1983, 58 French soldiers were killed when a truck loaded with explosives blew up the French headquarters in Beirut, at the same time that a car bomber destroyed the U.S. Marine barracks, killing 241 American servicemen.
The United States also found that moving its embassy from West Beirut to the eastern sector in 1984 gained it no protection from terrorist attack. In September of that year, a car bomber managed to penetrate the defenses of the Christian militia and the embassy and exploded the bomb outside the embassy building in suburban Aukar, killing 14 people. An earlier terrorist bombing at the old embassy site in West Beirut left 63 people dead in April, 1983.