Talks continue over UNIFIL force for Lebanon

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Talks continue over UNIFIL force for Lebanon

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EU member states have agreed that their troops must make up a major part of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. But all have held back from making a firm commitment until their foreign ministers meet in Brussels tomorrow. Italy is urging other countries to back its pledge of 3000 troops with more of their own, but observers say no numbers have been mentioned. Earlier, in Paris, Israel’s Foreign Minister urged the EU to come in fast and strong. Tzipi Livni told French diplomats that a UN Force is needed urgently to defuse the tension in Southern Lebanon.

EU troops are considered vital if the UN is to assemble an advance party of 3,500 troops before September 2. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said: “France has doubled its contingent within the framework of UNIFIL, and we have 1700 men on the ground who are giving logistical support to the UNIFIL troops. So we are the country that is currently the most involved and present on the ground.”

The UN troops will work alongside the Lebanese Army to support a truce brokered after 34 days of conflict. UN chief Kofi Annan is set to tour the war-torn region to help shore-up the ceasefire. His visit will include Israel, Lebanon, Iran and Syria.

Damascus has said it will close its border with Lebanon if UN troops are stationed there, as called for by Israel. Three Lebanese soldier died yesterday while clearing unexploded Israeli shells. The deaths are the first since the deployment last week.