Irish keep the peace along volatile blue line
SURROUNDED by infamous minefields, Irish peacekeepers eyeball the Israeli forces from their outposts in one of the most militarised zones in the Middle East.
They are deployed there to monitor movements on the Lebanese side of the blue line, the negotiated line of withdrawal of Israeli soldiers after a bloody conflict that followed their incursion in 2006.
Much of the 118km that stretches from Naqoura, where the Unifil peace mission has its force headquarters, across to Mount Hermon is along the agreed boundary dividing Israel from southern Lebanon.
But there are areas still in dispute and these have turned the region into a complex map of potential flashpoints.
As a result, the Irish are constantly on patrol in order to ensure they can spot and defuse an incident that could flare up, without warning, into a crisis.
As the commander of one of the two Irish outposts, 6-52, put it : "It is relatively calm at the moment but the slightest thing can trigger a reaction that might escalate."
Captain Tom Mulderrig added : "We are the eyes and ears of the Irish battalion in this area."
For the 28 troops attached to 6-52 and a similar number at the nearby 6-50 post, it's a round-the-clock job.
From yesterday, the Irish are now fully operational with the official handover of control of 6-50, which is located on the blue line, from the French to the battalion.
In a simple ceremony, platoon commander, Commandant Tom Fox assumed control after the French flag had been lowered and the Tricolour hoisted in its place.
The Irish initially built the post but gave it to the French when they ended their involvement in the mission in 2001.
The official handover yesterday took place well ahead of schedule and the Irish operate in support of the Lebanese Armed Forces, who have primary responsibility for ensuring security in the area.