Qatar yesterday 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," Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani said at a joint press conference with Annan.
He was referring to UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which 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 a marathon Middle East tour to push for the implementation of Resolution 1701, which went into force on Aug. 14 after 34 days of devastating conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants, 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," Annan 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.
Meanwhile, a Qatar Airways plane carrying 142 passengers landed at Beirut airport -- the first commercial flight from the country to Lebanon since the war. Israel said it gave permission for the flight and more were expected.
The plane landed at Rafik Hariri International Airport at 3:20pm in the first of what the Qatari national carrier said would be daily commercial flights from Doha to Beirut.
Qatar Airways did not comment on whether it had sought Israeli clearance, stating only that it had received approval from Lebanese authorities to operate the flights.