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Italian troops arrive in Lebanon

Italy aims to deploy 2,450 ground soldiers in two phases spread over four months in Lebanon.

india Updated: Sep 02, 2006 11:28 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Italian troops began landing in Lebanon on Saturday in the first major reinforcement to the United Nations mission monitoring a ceasefire between Israel and the Hezbollah Shiite militia.

Five inflatable dinghies each transporting seven soldiers arrived shortly before 0430 GMT on the shores of this southern coastal city and were greeted by troops from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as two helicopters hovered overhead.

Lieutenant Federico Mariani, a spokesman for the Italian troops, told the agency that the soldiers would carry out a reconnaissance mission before the full contingent of some 800 soldiers is transported ashore from five naval vessels anchored off the coast.

He said the soldiers would then begin deploying in the south.

"We are not expecting any problems as we are here on a peace mission and the Lebanese people are good people," Mariani said.

The landing operation is expected to last all day.

Italian troops are arriving with 132 wheeled vehicles, 10 armoured assault vehicles and 16 tracked vehicles, a UNIFIL spokesman said earlier.

Italy aims to deploy 2,450 ground soldiers in two phases spread over four months, resulting in the largest contribution to the international force, which could build to as many as 15,000 men.

They are arriving under Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended 34 days of war that killed 1,287 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and at least 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

UNIFIL has been in southern Lebanon since 1978. Before the reinforcements it had about 2,000 soldiers, mostly from India and Ghana.

Resolution 1701 has strengthened UNIFIL's mandate. Aside from monitoring the ceasefire, the peacekeepers are to support the Lebanese army as it deploys as far as the border with Israel while Israeli forces withdraw from Lebanese territory.

The resolution also calls on UNIFIL to assist the Lebanese military in taking steps toward the disarmament of armed groups.

South Lebanon is a Hezbollah stronghold.

The first UNIFIL reinforcements, 200 French military engineers, arrived earlier this month.

European nations have pledged more than 7,000 troops, including 2,000 from France.

Spain's government on Friday authorised the dispatch of 1,100 soldiers subject to parliamentary approval.

Indonesia will send up to 1,000 men after Israel dropped objections to participation by the world's largest Muslim nation, the country's defence minister said Friday.

First Published: Sep 02, 2006 11:28 IST