TRIPOLI, Lebanon -- A bomb ripped through a United Nations convoy in southern Lebanon yesterday, killing six peacekeepers under Spanish command.
The attack, which took place on a day when the Lebanese military fought a battle against Sunni Muslim radicals in the north, heightened fears that a second front might have opened in the fight against militants linked to al-Qaida.
The attacks on opposite ends of the country could stretch the Lebanese army further and weaken a country already beset by sectarian tension, political stalemate and a worsening economic crisis.
The Lebanese army is locked in a monthlong battle against a group of Sunni militants holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp north of Tripoli, where yesterday's gunbattle took place.
"The arena for conflict has moved to the south; this is very worrisome," said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The peacekeepers from the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, including two Spaniards and three Colombians, were patrolling a predominantly Christian area of villages and olive groves near the borders with Israel and Syria when the bomb detonated, U.N. officials said.
The bomb, which burned one personnel carrier and severely damaged another vehicle, probably was detonated by remote control, Spanish Defense Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said at a news conference in Madrid. It detonated on a paved road frequently used by U.N. convoys traveling between Khiyam and Marjayoun, near the peacekeepers' base.
"Without a doubt, we are dealing with a premeditated attack," he said. "In the last few weeks, there have been many incidents which have destabilized Lebanon. We were on high alert, and we had stepped up security."
Maj. Gen. Claudio Graziano, the commander of U.N. troops in Lebanon, said the attackers "were not only targeting [the U.N. force] but peace and security in the area."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in Paris to meet with French and Lebanese officials including Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, condemned the attack.
Anti-Syrian politicians described the attack as part of a campaign to intimidate and destabilize the country.
Hezbollah, which controls the area farther north of the attack, also immediately condemned the bombing.
The militant Shiite Muslim group has never been known to attack the U.N. force.
In the northern city of Tripoli, at least 10 people were killed in the hours-long gunbattle between militants and the Lebanese army that began late Saturday.
Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.