BLAT, Lebanon: Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Saturday his country’s troops with the UN force in Lebanon were ready to fight terrorism in order to achieve peace in the region.
“Your mission is to confront terrorism in this region, and it is something that you could encounter in attempts to establish peace,” he told Spanish peacekeepers in the southern Lebanese village of Blat.
“Our aim is to reach a comprehensive and just peace” in the region, he said, according to an Arabic translation of his speech in Spanish during a ceremony at the Spanish contingent’s headquarters in Blat.
“Peace in this region is directly linked to world peace, stability and the fight against terrorism which has been the cause of many crises around the world,” he said.
Zapatero and Spanish Defence Minister Jose Antonio Alonso arrived early on Saturday on a surprise visit to meet Lebanese officials and Spanish peacekeepers serving with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The Spanish premier met his Lebanese counterpart Fuad Siniora after arriving at Beirut airport, officials said.
Spain has nearly 1,100 troops in south-eastern Lebanon near the border with Israel as part of UNIFIL, which was boosted to more than 13,000 soldiers after the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon’s militant group Hizbullah. Six members of the Spanish contingent were killed last June 24 when a booby-trapped car exploded as their patrol vehicle passed by.
Unconfirmed media reports said the attack was carried out by al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, and Alonso attributed it to “a terrorist cell comprising possibly foreign individuals, that is, non-Lebanese.” Last week, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo said Syria’s secret service has threatened Spanish soldiers in Lebanon in a bid to block the extradition of suspected arms dealer Monzer Al-Kassar to the United States.
Spain has been one of the leading countries trying to end Lebanon’s long-standing political crisis amid deep divisions between the pro-Western ruling coalition and the opposition, backed by Syria and Iran.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has made several trips to Beirut and to powerful neighbour Syria in a bid to help break the deadlock over the past few months.
Lebanon has also been without a president since the mandate of pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud expired on Nov 23 amid sharp divisions between the ruling majority and the opposition.