Italian troops have set sail for Lebanon to join the UN peacekeeping force deploying in the south. With five naval vessels carrying up to 2,500 soldiers, the Italian contingent will be the largest in the UN force which is being expanded to 15,000. The ships are expected to reach the Lebanese port of Tyre on Friday. Addressing troops aboard the Garibaldi before they left Italy’s Prime Minister Romano Prodi said they were embarking on a “mission of enormous historical importance,” adding that the conditions of the deployment were “clear and unequivocal”. Until Italy assumes command of the force next February, France will be in charge. It has pledged to add 1,600 soldiers to the 400 it already has in Lebanon. An extra division from the French Army has also arrived in Beirut bringing in equipment to help rebuild 15 bridges destroyed in the war. Meanwhile, a massive operation is underway to clear thousands of mines in southern Lebanon. Experts also face the enormous task of making safe thousands of unexploded cluster bombs – an operation that could take years to complete.
UN sees first peacekeepers in Lebanon within days