By Todd Pitman
Mahmoud Tawil - AP

The Associated Press
Washington Post, DC
Aug. 31, 2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The U.N. force in Lebanon will soon receive the
first real boost in weapons and manpower: one battalion each of Italian
and French troops with heavy armor, including tanks and artillery,
officials said Thursday.

Nearly 1,000 Italian soldiers are due in the war-battered southern
port of Tyre on Saturday, the largest addition yet to the U.N.

Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, spokesman Alexander Ivanko told
The Associated Press.

So far, only 250 extra French troops have arrived since a Security
Council resolution promising an expanded U.N. force halted a month
of fierce clashes between Israel and Hezbollah on Aug. 14.

Under the resolution, the 2,000-strong UNIFIL is to be increased
to 15,000. Along with an equal number of Lebanese soldiers, the
blue-helmeted troops are to deploy across south Lebanon as Israeli
forces withdraw, leaving behind a buffer zone between Israel and

France, which will initially lead the force, is sending its first full
battalion of 882 troops and a shipment of tanks and heavy armor next
week, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told reporters. The
troops will arrive in southern Lebanon by ship on Sept. 10 and will
be operational Sept. 15.

France's contribution is expected to include Leclerc tanks,
surface-to-surface artillery, short-range anti-aircraft missiles and
radar _ unusually heavy weapons for a peacekeeping force.

The heavy weaponry "has a dissuasive character and guarantees the
freedom of movement and the security of the troops," Alliot-Marie
told lawmakers in a closed-door session Wednesday. Excerpts from that
meeting were released by the Defense Ministry Thursday.

U.N. member states are given wide freedom to supply their missions the
equipment as see fit. Still, peacekeeping deployments don't normally
deploy such heavy equipment _ though the U.N. has required nations to
in some hot spots, as in Congo, where it has attack helicopters in use.

"It's important that we arrive in sufficient strength to deter any
potential spoilers and provide confidence in the process to strengthen
the cessation of hostilities agreement and bring political breathing
space for the parties on the ground," said Nick Birnback, an adviser
in the U.N. Peacekeeping Department.

Alliot-Marie insisted France had obtained all "necessary guarantees"
for its troops before committing to UNIFIL, given concern over previous
peacekeeping debacles in Bosnia and Congo.

She also warned the 19-day-old cease-fire in Lebanon was being
"imperfectly respected," and that the situation on the ground was
still fragile. Though the truce has held overall, minor clashes and
an Israeli raid into Lebanon have been reported.

On Friday, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin will hold talks
in Rome with Italian Premier Romano Prodi about the peacekeeping force,
Villepin's office said.

The meeting will address the situation in the Middle East "at the
moment when our two countries have decided to become involved in a
strong way in keeping the peace in Lebanon," Villepin's office said
in a statement.

Both countries were deeply involved in crafting and securing the U.N.
cease-fire resolution. France will initially lead UNIFIL and Rome
has signed up to take command of the mission in 2007.

Europe has pledged 6,900 soldiers for UNIFIL. Italy's contribution
of 2,500 troops is the largest, second to France's 2,000.

An advance team of 29 Spanish soldiers arrived Wednesday in Beirut on a
reconnaissance mission to prepare a larger contingent that could number
up to 1,000 if Spain's Parliament approves the deployment, Ivanko said.

The Italian Defense Ministry put the number of its troops arriving
in Tyre on Saturday at 800 and said 200 more would arrive in Beirut
the next day.

The five-ship Italian fleet set off for Lebanon on Tuesday carrying
Italian marines and engineering corps specialists. Italian commanders
have said the troops are likely to be deployed in and around Tyre.

Alliot-Marie said a second French battalion would head to Lebanon a
few weeks after the first.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said UNIFIL would not disarm
Hezbollah fighters as called for by Israel, and would only deploy
along the Syrian frontier if the Lebanese government asks them to.

Syria opposes any international forces along its border.

In her speech to lawmakers, Alliot-Marie said the French commitment
to UNIFIL would cost $128 million for the first year, and that U.N.
funds could reimburse between $12.8 million and $25.6 million.

A separate, emergency contingent of about 200 French soldiers arrived
at Beirut airport Sunday to help the Lebanese army rebuild bridges
destroyed or damaged during 34 days of fighting between Israeli forces
and Hezbollah guerrillas. That team was sent to allow the existing
UNIFIL force greater mobility, Alliot-Marie said.

The French government sent two ships carrying 15 temporary bridges,
oil cleanup equipment and humanitarian aid to Lebanon this week as
part of the rebuilding effort, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

UNIFIL has been in Lebanon since 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of
Israeli troops who invaded Lebanon the same year.

Photo: A Lebanese Armenian protester carries a placard during a
demonstration against the participation of the Turkish troops in the
peacekeeping force in Lebanon, in front of the United Nations House in
downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2006. US, EU and Israel
pressed for peacekeepers from Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO,
and a country with close ties to Israel and Arab countries.

The large Armenian population in Lebanon has loudly protested Turkish
involvement. Armenians say up to 1.5 million Armenians died or were
killed over several years during World War I as part of a genocidal
campaign to force them out of eastern Turkey. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Tawil)

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