The United Nations appealed to European countries Friday to contribute troops to an expanded UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon to balance the commitments from Muslim countries so that both Israel and Lebanon will view it as legitimate.
Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said there was promising news from Italy and Finland. But he stressed that more European nations are needed for the vanguard force of 3,500 troops that the UN wants on the ground by Aug. 28 to help ensure a truce between Israel and Hizbullah militants in south Lebanon.
Italy formally endorsed sending troops to Lebanon but did not commit itself to specific numbers, though Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said the country could quickly send as many as 3,000 soldiers. Finland formally decided to send up to 250 peacekeepers to Lebanon, but said they would not be deployed until November.
At a meeting of 49 potential troop contributing nations on Thursday, the only countries to offer mechanized infantry battalions, which will be the front line of the expanded force, were three Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel - Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia - and Nepal, which is predominantly Hindu.
Many countries said they wanted to study the operational plans for the force and the rules of engagement before making any decisions. They include several European countries - Spain, Belgium, Poland, Greece, Portugal and Turkey - as well as Morocco, New Zealand and China, UN diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.