|German warships set sail to help police Lebanese waters
|Germany began its biggest naval operation since World War II on Thursday, as eight warships set sail for the Eastern Mediterranean to help the UN keep the peace in Lebanon. One thousand sailors left from the northern port of Wilhelmshaven on board eight ships.
The first of the ships, the frigate Karlsruhe, pulled away from the dock at the North Sea naval base and moved across the calm harbor waters after a farewell ceremony.
The German force of two frigates, two support vessels and four fast patrol boats, along with three ships from Denmark, are to arrive off the Lebanese coast in 10 to 14 days, the Defense Ministry said.
The ships were waved off by Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung a day after Parliament gave the green light for Germany's first military mission in the Middle East since World War II.
"This is a historic mission. It is a difficult but important task," Jung said in an address to the sailors on board the frigate Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
"Our job is to stop illegal arms smuggling and to reinforce the cease-fire so that the search for a lasting political solution in the Middle East can continue," he added. "Unless the weapons are silent there is no chance for peace in the Middle East."
Germany is taking charge of a multinational naval task force with a mandate to prevent arms shipments from reaching Hizbullah - a key component of the cease-fire agreement.
The naval detachment is led by the 139-meter frigate Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The patrol boats can reach speeds of 40 knots, or 74 kilometers per hour.
Lawmakers in the German Parliament approved the deployment Wednesday, though some voted against because of misgivings linked to Germany's Nazi past and the Holocaust.
Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out sending combat troops to Lebanon in an attempt to ensure that no German soldiers could get caught up in any confrontation with Israeli forces.
Berlin plans to deploy 1,500 sailors, 400 support staff, 100 air troops and 100 training officers off the Lebanese coast until the end of August 2007. Another 300 men will be on standby.
The initial mandate is open to extension.
The naval force will also include contributions from Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
Meanwhile, Major General Alain Pellegrini, the UN force commander, met Thursday with the commander of Lebanon's armed forces, General Michel Suleiman, to discuss the deployment of newly arrived UNIFIL troops and their Lebanese counterparts in the South.
The two commanders agreed that both forces would inspect the Blue Line after a complete Israeli withdrawal.
"I am very happy to announce that both UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army will conduct a joint inspection of the Line to make certain there are no discrepancies," Pellegrini said in a statement released Thursday.
The Daily Star