UN peacekeepers rescue 36 at sea off Lebanon

By: AFP      Published: 08:18 PM, 14 Sep, 2020
UN peacekeepers rescue 36 at sea off Lebanon

A UN peacekeeping force on Monday rescued 36 people from a boat in international waters off Lebanon's coast and recovered the body of another who had already died, it said.

The nationalities of the passengers and their intended destination was not immediately clear, but Lebanon and neighbouring island Cyprus have reported several migrant boats trying to leave the Middle Eastern country in recent weeks.

A UNIFIL "ship located at sea outside Lebanese territorial waters a boat with 37 people inside. Unfortunately, one of them had already passed away," it said in a statement, without providing details on the cause of death.

"The main priority for our peacekeepers was to rescue the remaining 36 people," it said.

It said all survivors were given medical treatment on board the UNIFIL ship, before being transferred to the Lebanese authorities.

The Lebanese army on September 8 said it had prevented a group of Syrians and their Lebanese handlers from illicitly leaving the country by sea from the northern city of Tripoli.

Cyprus the day before said it would send a team to Lebanon to help authorities stop boats with migrants heading for the Mediterranean island just 160 kilometres (100 miles) away.

At least five boats carrying over 150 migrants had been spotted off the coast of the tourist island in the days before that.

Lebanon, which hosts around 1.5 million people displaced from war-torn Syria next door, is in the grips of its worst economic crisis in decades.

The financial crunch has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, and a massive blast at the Beirut port last month that killed more than 190 people and ravaged large parts of the capital.

UNIFIL was set up in 1978 to patrol the border between Lebanon and Israel which are technically at war.

The ship that has helped with Monday's rescue was part of a maritime force deployed to assist the Lebanese navy to secure territorial waters but has before taken part in "humanitarian efforts", UNIFIL said.