The Italian government had formally agreed to send peacekeeping troops to an expanded UN mission in Lebanon, Defense Minister Arturo Parisi said on Friday.
Speaking to reporters after a special cabinet meeting, Parisi said that "Authorization for the Lebanon mission was approved, and that endorsement will now be submitted to parliament" for its support.
The cabinet unanimously approved the deployment of Italian troops to Lebanon but did not specify how many soldiers the country would contribute to the UN mission.
However, officials said Rome was ready to deploy up to 3,000 troops, and begin their operation there from the beginning of September.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi said in a news conference that Italy wanted to make "its contribution to peace."
"This is a new phase of Italian foreign policy," Prodi said, adding that this was "a phase of responsibility and credibility with a shared aim of helping the construction of peace in one of the most complicated regions of the world."
The first to depart for Lebanon would be the Italian Navy, followed by an army brigade, according to Fabrizio Castagnetti, the Italian general in charge of military missions abroad.
The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1701 a week ago, authorizing the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which currently has less than 2,000 troops, to be beefed up to a total of 15,000.
Hedi Annabi, the assistant secretary-general for UN peacekeeping operations, said on Tuesday that the United Nations expected that a vanguard contingent of 3,500 international troops would be deployed to southern Lebanon within two weeks.
According to the latest reports, at least six countries have pledged to contribute troops to the expanded UN mission, including Bangladesh, Denmark, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal.
France doubled its current contribution to 400 troops in the existing 2,000-strong UN peacekeeping force stationed in Lebanon and it takes a lead role in the operation.