Europe Balks at Lebanon Troop Commitment

The Associated Press
Monday, August 21, 2006; 11:57 AM

ROME -- An Italian coalition leader said Rome would be willing to lead the military peace mission in Lebanon should the United Nations ask it to, while Germany's chancellor said Monday she is confident that Europe will contribute ground troops.

With the United States viewed by many as too closely allied to Israel, Europe is uniquely positioned to take the lead to help end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants. But so far, no European countries have stepped up with a large contribution of troops.

European Union diplomats will meet on Wednesday to consider the number of troops the 25 EU nations will contribute to an expanded U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday she believes "there will and should be a European contribution with ground troops" in Lebanon.

"However, all the countries are saying what Germany is saying: We need the right rules for the deployment" and the approval of the Lebanese government, she said.

President Bush on Monday called for quick deployment of an international force to help uphold the fragile cease-fire.

"The international community must now designate the leadership of this new international force, give it robust rules of engagement and deploy it as quickly as possible to secure the peace," the president told a news conference.

Piero Fassino, who leads the largest party in Premier Romano Prodi's center-left coalition, told Rome daily Il Messaggero in an interview published Sunday that Italy "will not refuse, even though it is not seeking it."

"The Middle East is close to us, and a great nation like Italy cannot shirk its duties," Fassino was quoted as saying. "You cannot only invoke peace and security, you have to build them."

A U.N. cease-fire resolution has authorized up to 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers to help an equal number of Lebanese troops extend their authority into south Lebanon, which has been controlled by Hezbollah, as Israel withdraws its soldiers. The U.N. wants 3,500 troops on the ground by next Monday.

Italy did not commit itself to specific numbers, but has indicated it would be prepared to send 3,000 soldiers, the largest contingent to date.

Germany has said it would not send troops, but will offer naval forces to help patrol the country's coastline. With their country's Nazi-era past in mind, German officials have expressed concern about deploying German troops in any situation that might bring them into confrontation with Israeli soldiers.

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