25 January 2010The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon is taking part in a joint search-and-rescue operation for possible survivors from a plane crash off the coast of Beirut early this morning. According to media reports, an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane with about 80 travelers and 10 crew members went down into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after take off from Beirut airport en route for Addis Ababa in a strong storm. At the request of the Lebanese authorities, the maritime task force of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) dispatched two ships to the crash site as well as two helicopters.The maritime fleet has been deployed since 2006 in the wake of that year’s war between Israel and Hizbollah, and is tasked with helping the navy secure its territorial waters and prevent the unauthorized entry of arms or related material by sea into Lebanon. Last month the task force rescued at least 35 crew members from a cargo ship that capsized in rough seas about 10 nautical miles from the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, and the week before it saved another crew member from a merchant ship that had sunk off the southern Lebanese coast. In 2008 the force rescued 14 people from a disabled vessel.