UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown appealed to European countries on Friday to contribute troops for an enhanced UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.
"The particular appeal I want to make today is that Europe comes forward with troops for this first wave," he told reporters at UN headquarters.
With Italy and Finland having promised contributions to the UN force in Lebanon, more European countries are still needed for the quick deployment of the advance team of 3,500 troops that the UN hopes on the ground in ten days, said Brown.
"The next few days are going to be very challenging to make sure that we meet this commitment to 3,500 troops, or 7,000 boots on the ground in 10 days from now," he said.
After a meeting of 49 potential troop contributing nations on Thursday, European countries expected to have provided key contributions have been reluctant to give firm troop pledges.
France, widely expected to make a significant contribution that would form the backbone of the expanded force, said it would dispatch only 200 army engineers in addition to the 200 already part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, which is commanded by a French general.
The Italian cabinet approved the deployment of Italian troops to Lebanon but did not specify how many soldiers the country would contribute to the UN mission.
Finland formally announced it would send 250 peacekeepers but it said the troops would not be deployed until November.
Brown said that while the firm commitments made by Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Nepal at Thursday's meeting were " enormously helpful and a major contribution," what the UN prefers is a balanced multinational force that would be acceptable to both Lebanon and Israel.
"We want this force that we deploy to have a kind of multinational, multilateral character so that it enjoys the confidence of both sides," he said.
"We have said before that a Muslim-European, or a European- Muslim force (would be preferable), because of both groups' interest in this situation," said Brown."(It would) bring when you combine them a legitimacy that satisfies both sides to this conflict."
"It is very important that Europe now steps forward," he stressed.
Concerns over the mandate of the force and its rules of engagement were believed to be the major obstacles keeping European countries from pledging troop contributions.
But the deputy secretary-general said countries had been given full details about the clear mandate of the mission after the UN meeting on Thursday of potential troop contributors which was designed to dispel member states' uneasiness in this regard.
"Now the ball is in their court in that yesterday they were given the full briefing that we gave in hard or electronic copy for them to send back to their capitals," he said. "Today they're getting the full rules of engagement and con-ops (the concept of operations)."
UN resolution 1701, adopted by the council last Friday, authorizes up to 15,000 UN peacekeepers to be deployed to southern Lebanon alongside a similarly-sized Lebanese force in parallel with the withdrawal of Israeli troops.