French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy has been visiting Beirut to discuss conditions for the deployment of an expanded UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. The foreign ministers of Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan are also due for talks about their countries’ roles. France is expected to be the lead nation for the UN military presence, but has said it will not commit to sending any soldiers until it gets guarantees that Hizbollah will disarm. Currently the UN has 2,000 soldiers in the region, operating as UNIFIL – the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The plan is for it to be expanded to 15,000 and for its mandate to be strengthened.
France is expected to supply up to 4,000 soldiers for the mission. The UN says it wants to move 3,500 new troops in within two weeks to maintain the fragile truce. UNIFIL would work with an equal number of Lebanese soldiers to police the ceasefire. Lebanon said it will start moving its own 15,000-strong force towards the south this week.
A core issue is whether Hizbollah guerrillas will agree to vacate the area south of the Litani river which they have controlled for 20 years. And Israel is reportedly prepared to keep troops in southern Lebanon for months if it takes that long for an international force to move in. Israeli Radio said that is what the chief of the army, General Dan Halutz, has told the parliamentary Defence Committee.