Israeli overflights of Lebanese air space are "extremely dangerous" because French-led UN peacekeepers on the ground could see them as hostile acts and fire in self-defense, France's defense minister said Friday.
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told a news conference that the violations of Lebanese air space could give others an excuse not to obey a cease-fire imposed by the UN Security Council to end this summer's war between Israel and Hizbullah.
"I remind that the violations of the airspace are extremely dangerous," Alliot-Marie said. "They are dangerous first because they may be felt as hostile by forces of the coalition that could be brought to retaliate in cases of self defense and it would be a very serious incident."
Hours later, French President Jacques Chirac said Friday that Israel must stop its sorties into Lebanese airspace, because it "opposes the spirit of UN Resolution 1701."
Chirac made the comments during a press conference in Finland where a EU conference was being held
Israel contends its overflights do not contradict UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which included the cease-fire that brought an end to 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hizbullah on Aug. 14. The resolution calls for both sides to respect the UN boundary known as the Blue Line drawn by the UN after Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.
On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told a parliamentary committee on Monday that French peacekeepers in Lebanon have warned Israel that their jets may not remain immune if they continue to violate Lebanese airspace.
Warning: Overflights must stop
Alliot-Marie was explicit that the overflights were violations that must stop. She said they are not in Israel's interest because they "could be used as pretexts for some people so that these people themselves don't enforce the resolution."
The defense minister spoke a day after French Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, who leads the UN Peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, said the overflights are a major concern and a clear violation of the resolution.
However, after that report, United Nations spokesperson Stefan Dujarric said Thursday that UNIFIL forces had no intention of firing at Israeli planes patrolling Beirut’s skies.
"To change the rules of engagement, a political decision must be made by the UN secretary general and the nations that enlisted soldiers to the UNIFIL force," Dujarric assured.