Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Italian UN troops begin deploying in Tyre, Lebanon

AFP , TYRE, LEBANON

Italian troops landed in Lebanon yesterday in the first major reinforcement of the UN mission monitoring a truce between Israel and the Hezbollah militants.

Five inflatable dinghies, each transporting seven soldiers, arrived on the shores of this southern coastal city and were greeted by troops from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Helicopters also dropped off some 100 soldiers.

Lieutenant Federico Mariani, a spokesman for the Italian troops, said that the soldiers would carry out reconnaissance before the full contingent of some 800 commandos was brought ashore from five ships 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 was expected to last all day.

Italian Colonel Walter Guerrisi, commander of the San Marco naval regiment, said he was confident the some 30,000 UN and Lebanese troops to be deployed in Hezbollah's longtime bastion in the south would be able to improve security in the region.

"With the UN, we are going to give aid to help the Lebanese armed forces to [improve] security ... within the area," he said.

The Italian troops were equipped with 132 wheeled vehicles, 10 armored assault vehicles and 16 tracked vehicles, a UNIFIL spokesman said.

Italy has the aim of deploying 2,450 ground soldiers in two phases spread over four months, creating the largest contingent in the expanded UNIFIL force of up to 15,000 troops as planned under the UN truce resolution that went into force on Aug. 14.

Security Council Resolution 1701 ended 34 days of devastating conflict that killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, overwhelmingly civilians, and at least 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

The UNIFIL force was first deployed to south Lebanon following Israel's first invasion in 1978. Before the reinforcements it had just under 2,000 soldiers.

UN Resolution 1701 has strengthened UNIFIL's mandate. Aside from monitoring the truce, the peacekeepers will support the Lebanese army as it deploys to the international border while Israeli forces withdraw from territory they occupied during the war.

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

Guerrisi said the mission's rules of engagement were "robust enough" for it to be successful.

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

European nations have pledged some 7,000 troops, including 2,000 from France, which will lead the UN force until February, when Italy will take over.

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

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