Hezbollah members accused over Irish peacekeeper killing, source says
PHOTO CAPTION: Members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeeping mission attend the repatriation ceremony for Irish soldier Sean Rooney who was killed on a U.N. peacekeeping patrol, at Beirut International Airport, in Beirut, Lebanon December 18, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
BEIRUT (Reuters) -A Lebanese military tribunal has formally accused five members of Hezbollah and the allied Amal Movement of killing an Irish U.N. peacekeeper in 2022, a senior Lebanese judicial source told Reuters on Thursday.
Private Sean Rooney, 23, was killed on Dec. 15 in the first fatal attack on U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon since 2015.
The five accused are among seven already charged by Lebanon's judiciary in January, but a new court document filed on Thursday identifies some of them as members of Hezbollah, the armed group that controls the part of southern Lebanon where the attack took place.
Hezbollah's media office did not immediately respond to attempts to reach it. The Amal Movement, which is headed by Lebanon's parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, declined to comment.
"This is one important step towards justice and we continue to urge accountability for all perpetrators involved," U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) spokesman Andrea Tenenti told Reuters.
The judicial source said the military tribunal judge accused them of conducting a criminal act that led to Rooney's killing and to the attempted murder of three other soldiers.
The source said the accusation was punishable by the death sentence, adding that the document referred to evidence drawn from camera recordings in which the accused refer to themselves as members of Hezbollah.
A second judicial source confirmed that camera evidence was mentioned in the 30-page court document.
One of the accused had already been detained in connection with the case in late 2022 by the Lebanese military and charged with murder. He was identified at the time as a supporter of Hezbollah.
The other six suspects face charges ranging from attempted murder to damaging a vehicle. None is in custody.
Hezbollah has officially denied involvement in the killing, calling it an "unintentional incident" that took place solely between the town's residents and UNIFIL.
On Dec. 16, Ireland's then-foreign and defence minister Simon Coveney told state broadcaster RTE that he did not accept Hezbollah's assurances that it had no involvement.
UNIFIL has operated in Lebanon since 1978 to maintain peace along the border with Israel and was expanded by the U.N. resolution that halted the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in southern Lebanon.
Rooney was killed when the UNIFIL vehicle he was in was fired on as it travelled in southern Lebanon.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Maya Gebeily; Additional writing by Ahmed Elimam; Editing by Mark Porter, David Holmes and Nick Macfie)