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French Troops in Lebanon Feel Threatened by Israeli Planes


France's defense minister says French troops stationed in Lebanon barely avoided firing on Israeli planes when they suddenly swooped down on them. Israel says the flights are necessary to ensure the Hezbollah militia does not rearm.

In remarks before the French National Assembly, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said French peacekeeping forces almost fired on Israeli fighter planes that suddenly nose-dived over them on October 31.

Ms. Alliot-Marie said the planes were clearly in an attack position, and normally French troops would fire in self-defense in such a situation. They did not, for reasons that remain unclear. But the minister says French forces barely avoided a catastrophe.

The French troops are part of a U.N. peacekeeping operation in Lebanon, put in place following fighting between Israel and the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah in July and August.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy in France, Nina Benami, said Israel had no intention of harming the French troops or any other of the U.N. forces stationed in Lebanon.

"All the Israeli flights in South Lebanon are reconnaissance flights and the purpose is for self defense and to prevent the Hezbollah from rearming itself in South Lebanon," she said. "We cannot be in a situation in which the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] is surprised by such a situation. We cannot be in a situation in which UNIFIL [the UN peacekeeping mission] is surprised by the rearming of Hezbollah."

Ms. Benami said the incident with the French troops was the first to her knowledge, and she said there is a framework to resolve such misunderstandings.

But the French head of the U.N. peacekeeping operations in Lebanon says the Israeli overflights violate a U.N. ceasefire resolution and that they must stop.

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