Michel Sleiman
Michel SleimanWhite House Photo

President Michel Sleiman of Lebanon said Thursday that terror attacks targeting UNIFIL were aimed at forcing UN peacekeepers out of Israel's northern neighbor.

Sleiman also condemned the firing of rockets from south Lebanon toward Israel, saying such attacks harmed the country’s security and stability and called for the arrest of the culprits. The remarks were a departure from surreal statements by the Hizbullah-dominated government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati saying Israel was behind the rocket attacks on its own northern towns from Lebanon.

On December 11, a rocket launched from south Lebanon toward Israel fell short of its target, seriously wounding a Lebanese woman. That launch came just two weeks after rockets fired from south Lebanon hit northern Israel in the first such attack in two years. Israeli responded with an artillery counter-strike on the Lebanese border village where the launcher was located.

Earlier this week the UN Security Council extended the UNIFIL mandate in south Lebanon, but warned more terror attacks could “affect future operations.”

During his visit to the headquarters of the French contingent of UNIFIL in Deir Kifa, near Tyre, the Lebanese president met with five peacekeepers wounded when a roadside bomb detonated next to their vehicle on December 9.

“You are here alongside the Lebanese Army to implement Resolution 1701 in the interest of peace in Lebanon and the region and also humanity in these circumstances. You were a target of two terrorist attacks this year. We thank God for your safety," Sleiman told the soldiers.

“We were a target of terrorism in 2007 when we destroyed its base in the Nahr al-Bared camp in the north," Sleiman said, referring to the Lebanese Army's battles against Fatah al-Islam terrorists.

“Today, terrorism exists and is operating secretly and is targeting UNIFIL in order to force it to withdraw [from south Lebanon]. Therefore, I salute you and the soldiers who did not retreat in the face of terrorism.

“The attack on you is an attack on UNIFIL as a whole and on the idea of peace and on the United Nations, and of course [it is aimed] at undermining Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty.” Sleiman said.

“We always condemn these terrorist attacks. Investigations should be expanded to arrest the perpetrators and refer them to the judiciary,” he said.

Sleiman’s visit follows on the heels of the third terror attack targeting UNIFIL this year. Six Italian peacekeepers were wounded in a roadside bombing in May and five French soldiers were wounded in a similar blast in July.

Later on Thursday he visited the headquarters of the Lebanese Army’s Eighth Brigade in the village of Ghandourieh. During the visit Sleiman told troops the “three pillars” which have protected Lebanon throughout the year are the Lebanese Army, the country’s pluralist democratic system, and “the financial system."

Sleiman's remark was a clear departure from the long-stated mantra in Lebanese politics that the "three pillars" that guarded Lebanon are the Lebanese Army, pluralistic democracy, and the 'resistance' – a pervasive reference to Hizbullah.

“We condemn the terrorist attacks on UNIFIL and the firing of rockets which is against the state in Lebanon and Lebanese sovereignty. [Rocket launch] is targeting Lebanon and harming its reputation, its image, stability and security. We must not back off in the face of terrorism,” Sleiman said.

“Those [firing the rockets] are undermining security and stability ... I am sure that whoever is firing these rockets doesn’t care for the resistance and steadfastness,” he said.

Sleiman's remarks echo mounting criticism opposition March 14 leaders and the Future Movement of former prime minister Saad Hariri, who have all said 'resistance' has been used to unilaterally draw Lebanon into devastating wars with Israel against Beirut's wishes.

They have also called for talks focused on disarming Hizbullah who, they say, has unduly influences Lebanon's politics and undermined the will of the Lebanese people with the threat – and exercise – of violence.

Earlier this year four Hizbullah terrorists were indicted for the 2005 assassination of late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.