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UN Lebanon peace force proves political hot potato

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UN Lebanon peace force proves political hot potato


Who wants to go first? European Union countries at a meeting this Wednesday are expected to try to clear up some of their questions about what their troops would do if they join the UN peacekeeping presence in Lebanon.

France initially seemed willing to take a leading role, but now it is offering only 200 extra troops for UNIFIL. The impetus appears to have swung towards Rome. The Italian government has approved sending up to 3,000 troops, which would make it the leading contributor.

However, while Beirut praised Italy as having “excellent relations with all countries in the area”, the rightwing opposition in Rome warned the Italian deployment could prove a “suicide” mission.

Germany has signalled it is willing to send its navy to patrol the Lebanese coast and help the humanitarian effort, and German police might help train Lebanese border forces.

At a back-to-work press conference marking the end of a summer break, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged a rapid deployment of troops to Lebanon.

She said: “The weekend showed that the ceasefire situation is very fragile. This fragility cannot be tested too much.”

The UN has vowed to get an initial contingent of 3,500 soldiers to the region within the next two weeks. A UN cease-fire resolution provides for a force of 15,000 – eventually.

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