spanish unifil troops.
(photo credit: AP)
Some 418 Spanish soldiers arrived in Beirut on Thursday to join a UN peacekeeping force monitoring the cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah in south Lebanon.
Lt. Col. Jose Puig, spokesman for Spanish troops in Lebanon, said the soldiers arrived on two commercial flights chartered by the Spanish army.
One plane carrying about 165 soldiers landed at Beirut airport at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT), and another arrived at 11 p.m. (2000 GMT) with 253 more troops, Spanish military officials said.
All 418 soldiers would replace 500 who deployed in south Lebanon in September, as part of the UN peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL, said Major Pedro Herrero, another spokesman for Spanish troops in Lebanon. He said the departing troops were expected to leave in shifts later this month and in early November.
Puig said the Spanish troops were armed with "personal weapons, not heavy weapons."
"Heavy weapons, armored vehicles and armored personnel carriers will arrive here by ship in a week or so," he said.
The Spanish Defense Ministry said the troops would join another group of 60 soldiers near the Christian town of Marjayoun. Spain's contingent UNIFIL would increase to a total of about 1,100 troops in the coming weeks, the ministry said.
Spain is the third largest contributor to the international peacekeeping force after Italy and France.
The force currently has 6,000 soldiers but is scheduled to number 15,000. Some 16,000 Lebanese troops have already deployed alongside UNIFIL to maintain peace in south Lebanon, a Lebanese official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Also Thursday, some 130 Italian soldiers arrived aboard an Italian military plane that landed at Beirut airport, to join another 1,000 Italian troops serving in south Lebanon.
With 2,500 troops, Italy is the leading contributor to the force and is scheduled to take over command of UNIFIL from France in February.
The UN force patrols a buffer zone in south Lebanon to prevent hostilities from breaking out again between Israel and Hizbullah guerrillas.
The 34-day war, which ended in a UN-brokered cease-fire on August 14, killed more than 1,000 people - mostly Lebanese civilians.