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EU countries will wait for the outcome of UN talks on Thursday before announcing what contributions they might make to a planned international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, an EU diplomat said Wednesday.
EU diplomats and security experts, meeting in Brussels, agreed that "speed was the essence" in implementing a UN resolution calling for UNIFIL to be expanded to 15,000 troops, the official said.
"Everybody's doing everything to get this resolution implemented as soon as possible. The member states have all said that once the UN talks take place and we have more specific details about the concept of the operation, they'll be in a position to say what they'll contribute," the diplomat said.
The mandate of the existing UNIFIL force expires August 31, he said after a meeting of the EU's Political and Security Committee. The committee, made up of political directors of the member states' foreign ministries, is in charge of crisis management operations.
EU members willing to deploy forces include France, Italy and Spain. Germany said Wednesday it was willing to help a UN force in Lebanon provide security along the border with Syria, but made no commitment to send troops.
The UN hopes 3,500 well-equipped international troops can reinforce the UN contingent in southern Lebanon within 10 to 15 days to help consolidate the cease-fire that ended 34 days of fighting on Monday and create the conditions for the IDF to head home.
An EU diplomat from Finland, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said it was still too early to estimate when the first EU troops could be on the ground.
"The EU stresses the importance of participating in such a force. I can just hope the first elements of the force will be deployed as soon as possible," said Teemu Tanner, Finland's ambassador to the Political and Security Committee.
Diplomats said that after the talks at the UN on Thursday, the EU member states will also decide what military assets they will make available to help with reconstruction efforts and humanitarian aid.
EU Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said Lebanon was in an emergency situation and urged Israel to immediately end its blockade.
"Although the fighting has stopped, victims of the conflict in Lebanon still face urgent humanitarian needs. They lack basic essentials such as food, medicines, fuel and electricity," Michel said.
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