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Qatar pledges 300 troops to Lebanon

Qatar has pledged up to 300 troops for the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, making it the first Arab state to do so.

india Updated: Sep 04, 2006 17:35 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Qatar on Monday pledged during a visit by UN chief Kofi Annan, up to 300 troops for the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, making the gas-rich emirate the first Arab state to contribute.

The troop pledge was intended to "tell the world that there is an Arab presence, however small, and to say to Israel that we believe in this resolution and that we want to implement it," Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani said at a joint press conference with Annan.

He was referring to the UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the fighting in Lebanon.

The Qatari contingent would comprise "between 200 and 300 men," Sheikh Hamad said.

Annan said the pledge was "appreciated enormously" as it would help make the expanded UN force a truly international one.

The UN chief, who has been on marathon Middle East tour to push for implementation of Resolution 1701 that went into force on August 14 after 34 days of devastating conflict between Israel and Shiite militants of Hezbollah, said he had received wide backing in the region.

"I'm leaving ... convinced that Lebanon takes the resolution seriously and is determined to implement it to the fullest," he said.

"The Israelis gave me the same assurance and (in) the other capitals I have visited, from Syria to Tehran, and now here, everyone supports the resolution."

Qatar's troop offer brings to 18 the number of countries that have promised contributions to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) -- 14 of them European and the other four Asian.

Shortly after Sheik Hamad's announcement, a Qatar Airways flight left Doha for Beirut in a bid to break Israel's air and sea blockade of Lebanon, a spokesman for the Gulf emirate's state-owned flag-carrier said.

"The embargo is not sustainable," he said. "It is a particularly destructive act because it's at the time when Lebanon is trying to reconstruct. I think we will need to see the embargo lifted as soon as possible."

Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani visited Lebanon on August 21, becoming the first foreign head of state to do so after the ceasefire went into effect.

Qatar is the only Arab country currently in the UN Security Council. During the debate on Resolution 1701, its foreign minister expressed reservations about the text saying it did not set out Israel's obligations clearly enough.

But he added that Qatar would support it nonetheless to end the bloodshed.

A close US ally, the tiny Gulf state has no diplomatic relations with Israel but has allowed a trade mission in Doha since 1996 and visits by Israeli officials have become relatively frequent.

Resolution 1701, which lays down the terms of the August 14 ceasefire, calls for an Israeli pullout from southern Lebanon, a deployment of the Lebanese army and reinforced UN peacekeepers.

First Published: Sep 04, 2006 17:35 IST