Close to 200 French soldiers have arrived in southern Lebanon – sealing France’s commitment to the international peacekeeping force in the country. Paris has also pledged to send another 1,600 troops to the war-torn country.
They will be part of what the United Nations hopes will be a 15,000-strong force which will join a similar number of Lebanese troops. Italy has said it plans to contribute 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers to the UN peacekeeping mission, provided Israel does not violate the ceasefire.
Italian Premier Romano Prodi told EuroNews: “We are not holding a beauty contest here. We must contribute to peace. If we are handed leadership responsibilities, that will be fine. Otherwise, we will still do our bit for peace.”
France increased its contribution after receiving assurances about the force’s mandate. It had initially promised to send only an extra 200 soldiers.
French President Jacques Chirac said: “Two extra battalions will be on the ground, increasing our involvement in UNIFIL. Two thousand French soldiers will be wearing blue helmets in Lebanon.” EU foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels on Friday to discuss the make-up of the extended peacekeeping force which was first established 28 years ago.