|Italian troops add girth to expanding UNIFIL II
|Optimism grows among Residents of South
The UNIFIL II peacekeeping force picked up more weight on over the weekend as the first of 1,000 Italian troops arrived in the largest deployment so far of international reinforcements since the August 14 cease-fire.
The deployment of international troops had been delayed in part because of negotiations over the expanded UN force's mandate and efforts to persuade hesitant countries to contribute to what is seen as a potentially risky mission.
The full 15,000-member force has not been assembled yet, but with several major Europeans countries on board with contributions, pledges continue to trickle in daily.
Italy's pledge of 2,500 troops for the peacekeeping force is the largest so far.
The first 1,000 Italian troops, who began arriving Saturday, will immediately move to positions 20 kilometers inland of Tyre, according to the Italian Defense Ministry.
The first to arrive were 150 marines toting automatic weapons and blue berets, transported in gray UN helicopters to a hotel in Tyre. The Italian Marines secured two beaches, where the remainder of an 880-member battalion off the coast in warships had been scheduled to land.
However, only part of the battalion made it to shore due to high seas on Saturday. Some vehicles and equipment were diverted further south to Naqoura.
More Italian troops were deployed Sunday.
Additional troops unloaded heavy equipment at Beirut Port and about 150 commandos arrived at Rafik Hariri International Airport on Sunday.
Lieutenant Federico Mariani, a spokesman for the Italian troops, said half of the full contingent of 878 commandos had landed in Tyre by early Sunday.
He said the troops were going to a staging area on the outskirts of Tyre.
Lieutenant Andrea Catini, a platoon leader with the Italian Army's Lagunari Serenissima Regiment, said about 800 marines from his unit and from the navy's amphibious San Marco Regiment were setting up at two logistics bases near Borj Qalaway, 30 kilometers east of Tyre.
"We are just here for seven to 10 days," he said. "This is the first base."
Gathered on the beach to see the display, some residents were optimistic about the international force. "We're happy to see them," said Habib Hadid, 55, a businessman who sat on the beach as Italian forces arrived in four small boats. "I hope this means the war is over."
The Italian contingent brings the total number of international troops in Lebanon to 3,250, including the 2,000 previous UNIFIL troops and 250 French troops who arrived last week.
Meanwhile, Germany said it had cancelled a special Cabinet meeting due Monday at which the government was expected to give the go-ahead to send forces to Lebanon.
Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Berlin had yet to receive a formal request from Lebanon for it to deploy.
"Lebanese Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora has informed the chancellor that due to discussions within Lebanon he could not send the necessary request to the UN," Wilhelm said. "It is clear that without such a request from Lebanon to the UN a deployment by the federal armed forces is not possible."
Berlin has said it is prepared to patrol the Lebanese coast to prevent arms being delivered to Hizbullah but has ruled out sending ground troops. It has also said it is considering providing support for Lebanese police and border guards.
Media reported on Friday that Germany was considering sending up to 2,000 troops, mainly navy personnel.
Also Sunday, Malaysian Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said his country was intent on sending peacekeeping troops to Lebanon, but is still awaiting the green light from the UN.
Malaysia has offered to send 1,000 soldiers to Lebanon, but Israel has objected because the two countries do not have diplomatic ties. Malaysia has urged the United Nations to allow its soldiers to join UNIFIL II despite Israel's objections.
Malaysia had stern criticism for Israel during its 34-day military offensive in Lebanon, but says its troops, which have gained experience on peacekeeping missions in other countries, would be impartial.
Turkey's premier said Saturday that his government will withdraw any Turkish soldiers sent to Lebanon if they are asked to disarm Hizbullah, as public concern runs high that Turkish soldiers could end up clashing with fellow Muslims once deployed in Lebanon.
Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan assured Turks the soldiers would only be preserving peace and helping with humanitarian aid, not disarming Hizbullah.
The Turkish contribution to the UN mission would include a naval task force to patrol the Eastern Mediterranean and prevent arms smuggling.
According to the resolution, Turkish forces would also help train Lebanese Army troops and provide sea and air transport in support of other national contingents in the UN force.
The Daily Star