Hezbollah hands over militant who shot at helicopter

Other News Materials 30 August 2008 00:18 (UTC +04:00)

The Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah Friday handed over to Lebanese authorities the militant who opened fire on a Lebanese army helicopter killing a crew member, official sources said. ( dpa )

The official sources did not name the militant or say if he was a Hezbollah member, but security sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa confirmed the militant was a member of the Lebanese Shiite group.

Defence Minister Elias al-Murr had already said: "the minimum accepted condition is surrendering the elements who opened fire on the Army helicopter so that they could be arrested."

Hezbollah said earlier that shots fired at a Lebanese army helicopter resulting in the death of one of its crew were "regrettable and painful" but stopped short of admitting responsibility.

In a statement, the group pledged to cooperate with the Lebanese army, a day after a helicopter came under fire from gunmen in the south of Lebanon and was forced to make an emergency landing.

"Our group and the judicial authorities are dealing with the issue," the statement by Hezbollah said. Hezbollah stressed it would "fully cooperate with our dear brethren in the Lebanese army and with judicial sides so that the truth is uncovered."

There was unanimity Friday that Hezbollah was behind the attack over the Sujed hills, but conflicting reports as to the circumstances.

One report said the helicopter was still on the ground when it came under fire and the assailants, after killing army officer Samer Hanna, assaulted another crew member.

A Lebanese army communique, however, has said the helicopter came under fire from unidentified "armed persons," who killed Hanna.

Sources close to Hezbollah cited poor coordination between the group and the Lebanese army regarding the helicopter's flight, coupled with tension among the fundamentalist group's ranks as a result of threats and intensified overflights by Israeli aircraft.

The Lebanese daily An Nahar, on the other hand, quoted well- informed sources as saying that the helicopter was not shot down but made an emergency landing in rugged terrain between Sujod and Armati after it was hit by gunfire.

Other Lebanese media said the gunmen opened fire from a distance of only 10 meters, forcing the helicopter to land.

The reports said three army helicopters dispatched to the aid of tghe stricken aircraft were denied entry and the crew informed that no one could approach the area without Hezbollah permission.

Earlier in the day, Lebanese security sources said "army investigators are almost certain the guns used to shoot at the helicopter were the same as those used by Hezbollah."

The army deployed in southern Lebanon, along with a UN-reinforced peacekeeping force, after Israel's 33-day war with Hezbollah in 2006.

Despite the army presence, Hezbollah militiamen still maintain "unseen positions in the area" where they say they monitor Israeli activities on the other side of the fence.