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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Push to boost UN force in Lebanon
Objects identified as external fuel tanks of an Israeli jet near the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek
Lebanon is strewn with the debris of the recent war
Renewed efforts are under way to build up troop numbers for an expanded UN peacekeeping force for Lebanon.

EU officials are meeting in Brussels to try to establish which countries are willing to contribute to the force.

The UN has been disappointed by the response so far from European nations, and says a bolstered force is urgently needed to enforce the fragile truce.

Many nations have been hesitant to commit troops until there is greater clarity about the force's mandate.

In particular, they want clearer guidelines over the degree to which peacekeepers will be expected to disarm Hezbollah guerrillas.

There is now a security vacuum which the Lebanese government is trying to fill
Terje Roed-Larsen
UN envoy

The UN is trying to assemble a 15,000-strong force to join a similar number of Lebanese soldiers monitoring the ceasefire in southern Lebanon.

The 10-day-old truce has already been tested by a number of skirmishes and an Israeli commando raid deep inside Lebanon.

In the latest incidents:

  • An Israeli soldier was killed and three others wounded when their tank hit an Israeli-laid mine in southern Lebanon on Tuesday evening, the army said

  • Israeli soldiers entered the Lebanese border village of Rub Thalatheen and seized two residents, the official Lebanese news agency said

  • There was artillery fire near the Shebaa farms area at the convergence of Lebanon, Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights; Israel said it fired only onto its own territory near the border, as a deterrent, but Lebanese officials said Israeli troops had fired into a Lebanese village

'Vacuum'

Ambassadors from all 25 EU nations are joining senior military officials in Brussels to discuss Europe's contribution to the peace force.

Officials were quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying the meeting was unlikely to produce a breakthrough and would focus on assessing the requirements of the mission.

Lina Atwi

The talks are expected to prepare the way for a meeting on Friday of EU foreign ministers and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, which had been requested by Italy.

Italy has offered to lead the force and says it may send up to 3,000 troops, but wants assurances over the mandate.

France, which was initially expected to head the expanded mission, offered only 200 troops, expressing similar concerns over the mandate.

Other EU countries say they are willing in principle to contribute, but only small numbers of front-line troops have been offered so far.

Meanwhile, a senior UN envoy in the region has warned that the security situation in Lebanon is likely to remain "fragile" for the next two or three months.

Map

"There is now a security vacuum which the Lebanese government is trying to fill" with the help of international forces, Terje Roed-Larsen said after talks with the Israeli government in Jerusalem.

"But I think realistically, up to a point, you will have such a vacuum in Lebanon for the next two, three months," he told Reuters news agency.

"Unintended incidents can kick off renewed violence, which might escalate and spin out of control."

Israel attracted condemnation from the UN and Lebanon for a commando raid in the Bekaa Valley on Saturday, and since the ceasefire took hold its forces have clashed several times with alleged Hezbollah fighters, resulting in several deaths.

The UN has also expressed concern about Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace.

Israel says such actions are defensive.




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