The Turkish parliament has been debating sending troops to take part in the new UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Lebanon, the United States and Israel want NATO member Turkey to contribute troops and see soldiers from Muslim countries improving the force’s image in the region. The government plans to send naval vessels and help train the Lebanese army. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has said it would be a non-combat force numbering not more than 1,000. But the proposal has generated considerable opposition within the country. Thousands took to the streets in Ankara to urge parliament to vote against the proposal. There is concern among many in the Muslim but secular country that the UN force will mainly serve Israeli and US interests and those soldiers may have to fire at fellow Muslims.
Turkey’s close ties with both Arab countries and Israel make it unique in the region. The government is keen to boost the country’s role as a powerbroker in the Middle East. Diplomats say involvement by EU-membership candidate Turkey would be welcomed in Brussels.