The vanguard of a strengthened UN force has begun the task of keeping the peace in the south of the country. The first of almost of 900 Italian marines came ashore near Tyre early on Saturday morning. Italy is playing a lead role in the multinational force which is eventually expected to number up to 15,000.
The first contingent of Italians is helping to set up bases and has already begun patrolling. Rome is to send around 3,000 troops in all -the largest single component of the new force which will deploy along the Israeli-Lebanese border. The force was given its mandate after a ceasefire in mid-August that ended fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerillas.
UNIFIL II, as it is known, is intended to deploy with an equal number of Lebanese troops as Israel withdraws from southern Lebanon. It will have more power than the previous UN force which only had observer status. But the current commander in the region said disarming Hizbollah was still not part of its mission.
Among the Lebanese, there has been a mixed response to the troops’ arrival: “We welcome them as peacekeepers,” said one man. “They should be peacekeepers who stop aggression from both sides.” “I hope they can keep the situation quiet,” a woman said. Helping rebuild the devastated region is part of the peacekeepers’ mission – after several weeks of bombardment there is much work to be done.