The UN peacekeeping force in South Lebanon has completed its fact-finding investigation into the attack last month during which Pte Seán Rooney was killed, Trooper Shane Kearney was seriously injured, and two other Irish peacekeepers were left with minor injuries.
Andrea Tenenti, a spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping force known as Unifil, said that a report, including the key findings from its investigation into the attack in Al-Aqbiya, has been sent to UN headquarters in New York. Unifil has not released a public statement regarding the findings of the investigation.
Parallel investigations into the lethal attack on Irish peacekeepers are also being conducted by the Defence Forces with the support of An Garda Síochána and by the Lebanese authorities.
Under its UN mandate Unifil cannot detain or interrogate Lebanese civilians or search private property without the permission of the Lebanese authorities. As a result the scope of Unifil’s investigation is limited to gathering evidence from UN vehicles and property, as well as interviewing Unifil personnel.
The Lebanese authorities are responsible for arresting suspects involved in the attack, which took place in territory largely controlled by the Shia militant group Hezbollah, and conducting prosecutions under Lebanese law.
On January 5th a military court in Beirut issued charges against one individual detained in late December who has been described by a local military source as “the main suspect”. The court also issued charges against six other suspects not in custody for their involvement in the attack on the Irish peacekeepers in South Lebanon.
The military court in Beirut lies within the department of defence, and has a wide jurisdiction over civilians and has been criticised by human rights organisations.
“The military court is an exceptional court with a limited right to appeal and restricted access for the public and media to attend, which means it’s hard to assess how the court reaches its decision,” says Sahar Mandour, a researcher with Amnesty International.
Judge Fadi Sawan, a civilian appointee to the military court, is the investigative judge for the case. Judge Sawan was the first judge appointed to lead an inquiry into a devastating port explosion on August 4th, 2020, but was removed after he issued charges against several officials.
According to a source at the military court, the case file for the Unifil incident remains with the military prosecutor and Judge Sawan has not officially commenced his investigation.
To date no further arrests have been made by Lebanese authorities. A local military source said that the other suspects charged by the military court are currently believed to be in hiding in Bekka, an agricultural region of Lebanon which borders Syria and is dominated by Hezbollah.
“If there’s real international pressure, and an international will that calls for a clear and transparent investigation with convincing results, I think the army might be able to properly investigate this incident in the south,” says Ali al-Amine, a Shia journalist and Hezbollah critic.
On Thursday, Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin will visit Irish troops serving with Unifil as part of an official visit to Lebanon. Mr Martin will be accompanied by the secretary general of the Department of Defence, Jacqui McCrum, and the chief-of-staff of the Defence Forces, Lieut Gen Seán Clancy.
During the visit Mr Martin will conduct meetings in Beirut with his counterparts in the caretaker Lebanese government, including the minister for foreign affairs Abdallah Bou Habib and the minister for defence Maurice Sleem. A new Lebanese government has not been formed since a general elections in May 2022.
Mr Martin said that these meetings would afford him the opportunity to emphasise “the Irish Government’s determination that all of the facts and circumstances of the incident in which Private Rooney was killed are fully established and that those responsible are brought to justice”.