The Italian prime minister, who has been meeting his French counterpart Dominique de Villepin in Rome, has said the deployment of a UN force in Lebanon will begin in earnest on Saturday. Romano Prodi said a large Italian contingent is ready to land.
Italy and France are at the forefront of the new peacekeeping mission. It has been mandated by a UN-brokered ceasefire which brought an end to the recent conflict between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas. Some Italian and French soldiers have already been installed in the south of the country paving the way for the main force.
The 880 Italians who arrive tomorrow will be the largest single contingent to set foot in the country since the Security Council resolution of August 11 which ended the war. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said Israeli forces should withdraw fully from Lebanon as soon as 5,000 international peacekeepers are in the south. Spain has officially announced it will be sending a contingent. And Indonesia, one of a number of Muslim nations expected to contribute, has said it will send around 1,000 troops.