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French Version

Hamade says army will be ready to cross Litani 'in 48 or 72 hours'

Lebanon's telecommunications minister told French radio Monday that the Lebanese Army was preparing to cross the Litani River into the troubled South within two or three days, despite uncertainty about a future United Nations force for the region.

"The Lebanese Army is preparing itself along the Litani to cross the river in 48 or 72 hours," Marwan Hamade said on Europe-1 radio.

It will then be flanked by "the first contingents of an international force," he added, likely from France, Turkey, Spain and Italy.

Under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, unanimously adopted on Friday, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is to swell from its current 1,190-strong force to 15,000 international troops.

UNIFIL's commanding officer, Alain Pellegrini, held a joint meeting with Lebanese and Israeli army officers Monday to discuss the Israeli pullout from South Lebanon and the Lebanese Army deployment in the area, UNIFIL's spokesman and senior adviser said.

Milos Strugar said in a statement that the officials had discussed "the withdrawal of the Israeli Army and the deployment of the Lebanese armed forces in South Lebanon."

Several countries have signaled willingness to contribute troops to the peacekeeping force, but consultations are needed to determine its makeup and mandate and when it would reach full strength.

Six nations - Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Morocco, Spain and Turkey - have already agreed to contribute troops to the international force, the Lebanese government said on Sunday.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with his top ministers and generals to discuss possible plans to send up to 1,200 Turkish peacekeepers to Lebanon, reports said. The Hurriyet newspaper said the meeting was held to discuss the possibility of sending between 800 and 1,200 troops to Lebanon.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed that Erdogan was meeting with the foreign minister and top generals to discuss Lebanon but could not say whether details of a peacekeeping force were part of the agenda.

Germany's defense and interior ministers said on Monday that the country could not refuse if asked to participate in an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Germany must fulfill its international obligations if the country were asked to contribute soldiers.

Government spokesman Thomas Steg said Germany expected to have a clearer idea about the peacekeeping force by the end of the week.

France on Monday urged the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force "as quickly as possible" to cement a fragile cease-fire in the Middle East.

Diplomats at the United Nations were to consider details Monday on the size and timing of the deployment of UNIFIL in Southern Lebanon, the French Foreign Ministry said.

"It is clear that this deployment must take place as quickly as possible," once the force's mandate is defined, ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau said during a news briefing.

A French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that 4,000 "seems a feasible number." Italy has agreed to send some troops, according to both the Lebanese and Israeli governments.

Beirut 15-08-2006
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