French Armed Forces minister to spend New Year's Eve with UN troops in Lebanon

Visit by Sebastien Lecornu comes after recent death of Irish peacekeeper in attack

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France’s Armed Forces Minister will visit Lebanon to spend New Year's Eve with French peacekeepers stationed in the south of the country.

The trip by Sebastien Lecornu comes just over two weeks after an Irish soldier in the UN peacekeeping mission (Unifil) was killed there.

With 658 personnel, the French contingent is one of the largest in the multinational mission tasked with overseeing a ceasefire with Israel.

Mr Lecornu, who was expected to arrive on Friday, said he would also visit the site of the 2020 Beirut port explosion that killed more than 215 people and injured thousands, when a stockpile of ammonium nitrate caught fire.

The trip comes days after Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also visited Lebanon, where he reiterated his support for Unifil.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently suggested he may also go to Lebanon soon, to meet French peacekeepers and see the Unifil mission.

Three separate investigations are under way after Pvt Sean Rooney, 24, was killed when his convoy came under fire in the village of Al Aqbiya, in southern Lebanon.

Fellow soldier Pvt Shane Kearney suffered serious head injuries in the attack and has been flown back to Ireland for treatment.

Another two soldiers suffered minor injuries.

Iran-backed Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese armed group and political party that dominates the Al Aqbiya area, has denied involvement in the attack.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the authorities will spare no effort to bring the perpetrator to justice. A suspect has reportedly been handed over to the Lebanese Army.

About 11,000 UN peacekeepers are stationed in Lebanon. More than 300 Unifil troops have been killed since 1978.

Updated: December 30, 2022, 6:03 PM