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Attacks on eve of Bush's Mideast visit stir tensions

Two U.N. soldiers are injured by a roadside bomb in Lebanon. A rocket lands in Israel.

January 09, 2008|Raed Rafei | Special to The Times

BEIRUT — Fresh tensions arose Tuesday along the volatile Israeli-Lebanese border as two attacks were launched hours before a visit to the Middle East by President Bush.

A roadside bomb in southern Lebanon struck a vehicle carrying United Nations troops assigned to keep the peace along the frontier with Israel, slightly wounding two soldiers. Meanwhile, at least one rocket allegedly fired from Lebanese territory landed in northern Israel, but caused no deaths or injuries.

Bush was scheduled to arrive in Jerusalem today in the first stop of a trip that will also take him to several Arab nations.

The U.N. vehicle was hit Tuesday afternoon as it traveled near the southern city of Sidon, said Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL. The two wounded soldiers were taken to a nearby hospital, he said. Their nationalities were not released.

"We cannot comment on who is behind the attack," Tenenti said. "We have opened an investigation to determine what exactly happened and why."

UNIFIL has maintained the fragile peace between Israel and the Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah since the two went to war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006.

Tuesday's attack follows a bombing last year that killed three Colombian and three Spanish peacekeepers from the U.N. and one July 16 that targeted a U.N. post involving the Tanzanian contingency. That attack caused no casualties.

Lebanon charged six Palestinians linked to Sunni Muslim fundamentalist groups in the second attack.

An investigation is still underway in the attack on the Spanish and Colombian battalion, UNIFIL officials said.

The Al Qaeda terrorist network has repeatedly called for waging "holy war" against peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, whom it labels "invading crusader forces."

An audiotape attributed to the head of an Islamist group linked to Al Qaeda contained a threat Monday to carry out attacks against Lebanon in retaliation for the defeat last summer of militants in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli.

"The mill of war has started to grind . . . between the infidels and the believers," Shaker Abbsi, leader of Fatah al Islam, allegedly said in comments posted on a website frequently used by Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups.

Meanwhile, at least one rocket was fired Tuesday from Lebanon into northern Israel, news agencies reported, citing Israeli military officials.

Israel's Army Radio quoted a resident of the northern Israeli town of Shlomi as saying that three rockets landed in the community early Tuesday.

National police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in Jerusalem that Israeli police investigators were dispatched to the area and could confirm just one rocket landing. No injuries or damage were reported.

In June, two rockets fired by a previously unknown fundamentalist group, the Jihadi Badr Brigades-Lebanon Branch, struck Israel but caused no deaths or injuries.

The Lebanese army refused to comment on Tuesday's reported rocket attack. UNIFIL did not confirm or deny that it had taken place but said it had started an investigation.

In an unrelated incident, Israel on Tuesday released a Lebanese shepherd who was detained Monday for crossing the border in the disputed Shabaa Farms area, Lebanese security officials said.

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Times staff writer Richard Boudreaux in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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