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French, Italians eager to lead UN peace force in Lebanon

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French, Italians eager to lead UN peace force in Lebanon


Which countries will provide soldiers for the United Nations interim force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, under resolution 1701? Created in 1978 to confirm Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon then, UNIFIL is supposed be reinforced. But potential contributors are hanging back, with France a rare exception.

Italy is also determined to participate. Its foreign affairs minister Massimo d’Alema has been visiting Lebanon, reaffirming Rome’s position. He said: “Clearly, it will be possible only with a real halt to the hostilities, the fighting that is – and only when the Israeli force begins to pull out.”

UNIFIL has around 2,000 men on the ground today, under the command of a French general. The troops are French and Italian, Chinese, Indian, Irish, Polish, Ukranian and Ghanian. Spain is considering a contingent of 800. France aims to send between two and four thousand men, Italy between two and three thousand. The rest are undecided about whether they will even stay on. To bring strength up to 15,000, others might join, such as Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey or Germany.

The German navy could be mobilised to patrol the Lebanese and possibly Israeli coastline. But serious concerns are being debated. German parliamentarian Wolfgang Bosbach explains the sensitivity of the subject. He says: “We Germans should not refuse to get involved in a peace mission because of our history. But we must take great care not to get drawn into a conflict where we might one day find ourselves possibly having to face Israeli troops.”

UNIFIL personnel bring vital supplies to the vulnerable, carry civilians and wounded to safety, and liaise between opposing combatants. UN positions have taken direct hits, killing and wounding peacekeepers.

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