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UPDATED: 13:44, August 19, 2006
Italian parliament committees approve mission to Lebanon
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Italian Senate and House Defense and Foreign Affairs Committees Friday approved a decision to contribute troops to a UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, local media reported.

Defense Minister Arturo Parisi said "the nearly unanimous approval" acknowledged the "importance of backing a mission which will undoubtedly promote peace."

Italy's NASA news agency said Italy offered to contribute around 3,000 troops to a 15,000-strong strengthened UN force which will flank the same number of Lebanese soldiers, but so far there has had no official announcement.

Parisi only told reporters that an "advance force" might be ready to depart by the end of August.

Under UN Security Council resolution 1701 adopted on Aug. 11 to halt a month-long fighting between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, the UN interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is to be expanded from the existing 1,999 members to 15,000.

The expanded UN force is to help police the resolution-requested ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah and help Lebanese troops take control of the south when Israeli forces withdraw. The Lebanese army began to enter the south on Thursday.

So far, France, which currently commands UNIFIL, has pledged to send 200 troops. The Finnish government said it might send 250 troops, but added that no firm decision would be taken until the end of the month. Denmark said it was ready to send three warships into the region.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on late Thursday ruled out sending ground troops to join UNIFIL, but said Germany could send a "maritime protection component" and provide logistics, air transport and reconnaissance, depending on the rules of engagement.

Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal and Turkey have expressed willingness to contribute troops.

Bulgaria is considering sending troops but no decision has been taken yet. The Netherlands on Friday ruled out any involvement in the enhanced UN force.

Speaking to the joint Committee meetings before the vote, Parisi warned that the mission will be "long, difficult, costly and risky but a commitment to duty."

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said earlier Friday that Italy needed to discuss a number of logistical issues with other countries participating in the force before deciding on the size and tasks of its contingent.

Addressing the Committees, Italy's Foreign Minister Massimo D' Alema also admitted that the mission would be difficult because the situation in Lebanon is "volatile and tricky."

"Nevertheless, I am convinced that our country must back the UN."

The minister, who visited Beirut Monday, stressed that now was the time to give a hand to the moderate UN forces in Lebanon to "resume the difficult work of negotiating a road towards peace."

Meanwhile, Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy UN secretary-general, told reporters in New York that Italy had "made a firm commitment" to joining the force although it "had not yet done so on the size of its contingent."

Source: Xinhua

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