Doubts are beginning to pile up about when the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon will be able to exercise its mandate, and the composition of the force. The EU’s foreign ministers meet on Friday to discuss Europe’s contribution.
Although Italy’s offer to make up nearly a third of the force and lead it has been welcomed by both Israel and Lebanon, Italy’s Foreign Minister Massimo d’Alema today warned Rome would be unable to send any troops if Israel “keeps shooting”, adding it would be “fair to expect Hizbollah put down their weapons”.
Meanwhile the UN’s top envoy on Syrian-Lebanon issues warns there could be a two to three month “security vacuum” in southern Lebanon before the Lebanese army and UNIFIL is fully deployed. The UN wants a 15,000 strong multinational force, with a significant non-Christian component.
According to a French newspaper, UNIFIL’s provisional rules of engagement do not include the right to actively look for Hizbollah weapons, or disarm fighters. That will be undertaken by the Lebanese army. Despite all parties’ desire to have a strong advance guard deployed quickly, for the moment the only reinforcements are the 200 French troops busy rebuilding UN outposts.