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1,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops arrive



Published: Sat, September 2, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The full force is to number 15,000, to enforce the Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire.

TYRE, Lebanon (AP) -- The beefed-up peacekeeping force in Lebanon began to take shape Saturday as 1,000 Italian soldiers started moving in, the first large contingent of international troops dispatched to help safeguard a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.

With Israel apparently racing to destroy Hezbollah arms caches ahead of its impending withdrawal, the U.N. force commander said the truce is still "fragile" and warned any incident could quickly escalate.

The deployment of the peacekeepers has been delayed since the cease-fire began Aug. 14, in part because it took time to hammer out details over the troops' mandate and persuade hesitant countries to offer troops for what was seen as a potentially risky mission: getting between Israel and Hezbollah.

The full 15,000-member force has not been assembled yet, but with several major Europeans countries on board with contributions, more pledges were coming in.

Indonesia to send contingent

Mainly Muslim Indonesia announced it will send up to 1,000 soldiers by month's end after Israel dropped objections to its participation in the force. The U.S., Europe and Israel have been eager to have Muslim troops among the peacekeepers to show it is not a solely Christian force -- but Israel had opposed Indonesia's taking part because it does not have relations with the Jewish state.

Turkey's prime minister, meanwhile, was trying to ensure that parliament approves his government's promise to send troops amid strong public opposition. Recep Tayyip Erdogan assured Turks the soldiers would not be disarming Hezbollah militants.

"When such a thing is requested from our soldiers, then we will withdraw our soldiers," Erdogan told reporters Saturday.

The U.N. cease-fire resolution calls for Hezbollah to eventually be disarmed, but doesn't mandate the peacekeepers to do it.

Instead, the force -- along with the 15,000 Lebanese troops now moving into the south -- will ensure a buffer zone along the Israeli-Lebanese border is free of open Hezbollah fighters and arms, up to the Litani river about 18 miles to the north.

At Syrian border

At the same time, Lebanese troops on the border with Syria are supposed to prevent new weapons shipments to Hezbollah. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that Syria -- Hezbollah's ally -- promised to patrol its side of the frontier to prevent arms deliveries, though Israel was skeptical it would really do so.

On Saturday, Annan was in Iran, another top patron of Hezbollah and believed by many to be its top arms supplier, to press its leadership to ensure no weapons go to Hezbollah, as the U.N. cease-fire resolution requires all nations to do.

After talks with Annan, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki gave a vague promise to uphold the resolution, saying, "Iran has supported the Lebanese consensus on the resolution."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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