Beirut: Foreign ministers to discuss int'l force

Foreign ministers of France, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia were due to arrive in Beirut on Wednesday to work out details on assembling a 15,000-strong international force to oversee peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon. The force would work with an equal number of Lebanese soldiers to police the cease-fire that took hold Monday morning and ended 34 days of brutal combat. The UN hopes 3,500 well-equipped international troops can reinforce the UN contingent within 10 to 15 days to help consolidate the fragile cessation of hostilities and create the conditions for Israeli forces to head home, Assistant UN Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi said. However, it remained unclear, UN peacekeeping officials said, how quickly a full force could be assembled and deployed to Lebanon. The 2,000-strong UN peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL that has been in south Lebanon for over two decades was to temporarily take up positions along the border. "It will be a gradual withdrawal...It will take a couple of days, even up to one week," a UNIFIL officer told The Associated Press. "We agreed with the Lebanese army that it will start deploying as the Israelis start withdrawing. It could be as early as Thursday, maybe a slight delay," he said.