Foreign states offer troops to Lebanon

Int'l peacekeeping force to include soldiers from France, Italy, New Zealand.

Unifil post with soldier (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Unifil post with soldier
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
France, Italy and New Zealand were among the nations that said Saturday they were ready to send peacekeepers to a bigger, stronger UN force in Lebanon, and consultations were expected to start quickly to hammer out the force's makeup and mandate. Governments worldwide urged Israel and Hizbullah to seize the opportunity for a cease-fire, a day after the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution seeking a "full cessation" of hostilities. As fighting continued, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the resolution "a chance ... that must not be wasted." The resolution, drafted by France and the United States, authorizes 15,000 UN peacekeepers to help Lebanese troops take control of south Lebanon, a Hizbullah stronghold, as Israeli forces that have occupied the area withdraw. Observers say France would be well-suited to lead such a force, especially given its diplomatic success in acting as a go-between with the United States and Lebanon, a historic ally. As France had pushed for, the resolution strengthens an existing force - UNIFIL, which now has 2,000 troops and has been in place since 1978. The beefed-up mission will monitor the cessation of fighting, ensure aid reaches civilians and back up the Lebanese army. The Security Council also said UNIFIL's mandate could be "enhanced" in a later mandate. The US and Israel, worried about UNIFIL's historic ineffectiveness, had pressed for another solution - deployment of an entirely new multinational force separate from UNIFIL - leading up to an Israeli withdrawal. French President Jacques Chirac said France will "play a role in putting the new resolution into place, particularly in regards to the new UNIFIL." France will determine how many peacekeepers to send to Lebanon after evaluating the force's mandate, he said. Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told Le Monde newspaper that France planned to consult with other European countries on the issue. "We want to do it in a European spirit," said Douste-Blazy, who has visited the Lebanese capital of Beirut three times since fighting broke out July 12. The conflict has killed more than 800 people, destroyed much of Lebanon's infrastructure and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. By leading a peacekeeping force with a large European presence, France could strengthen its own role in the Middle East, which could in turn benefit the EU - and ensure France a greater role in carving out the bloc's foreign policy, said Barah Mikail of Paris' Institute of International and Strategic Relations. Given Paris' relations with Washington and its historic ties with the Arab world, "France seems the best-placed to lead this force," he said. Finland, current holder of the EU presidency, said it welcomed the resolution and the chance to enhance UNIFIL's mandate. The resolution paves the way for a political settlement "that only can bring a lasting solution to the crisis," the EU said in a statement issued in Finland, which currently holds the EU presidency. Italian Premier Romano Prodi and his foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema, confirmed Italy's willingness to take part in the force. They said Italy wants to "participate from the start in the consultations ... to determine the composition, articulation and mandate" of the force. Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said his country would be willing to contribute a few hundred troops. He cited Ireland's current commitments to supply troops to more than a dozen other UN-sanctioned missions, chiefly Liberia and Kosovo. Swedish Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson said he did not rule out Swedish participation, adding that the government must discuss the issue. Across the globe in New Zealand, Prime Minister Helen Clark said her country is ready to consider a role. "The onus now lies on the governments of Lebanon and Israel to accept the resolution as the basis for moving forward," she said. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Ankara would look "very favorably" toward sending peacekeepers, but only after a full cease-fire is achieved. Turkey has repeatedly said it would send forces once there is a cease-fire and after the United Nations had approved such a force. Gul did not clarify whether Turkey might send troops for a reinforced UNIFIL force.