EU ministers to meet Annan at emergency talks on Lebanon

23.08.06 @ 09:39

  1. By Lucia Kubosova

EU foreign ministers will hold emergency talks on Lebanon on Friday (25 August) with UN secretary general Kofi Annan also attending the meeting just before he is to announce who should lead the international force to be sent to the region.

"The purpose of the meeting is to focus on EU member states' contributions to UNIFIL and the conditions needed to make the operation a success," the Finnish presidency of the EU stated.

The extraordinary ministerial gathering will follow today's session of the bloc's Political and Security Committee which is also set to focus on the details of European troop's deployment in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Several EU member states have so far indicated they will send their soldiers to monitor the fragile ceasefire in Lebanon but have voiced strong concerns about the lack of clarity about the operating conditions.

Following the French announcement of a far smaller deployment - 200 soldiers - than had been expected by the international community, Italy has emerged as a potential leading nation with 2,000 to 3,000 troops.

According to the Italian foreign minister Massimo D'Alema, his country's contribution would make up about a third of the European troops which he has estimated at around 9,000 soldiers.

But he warned that Rome might still change its mind "if Israel keeps shooting and violates the truce sanctioned by the UN," according to Italian daily La Repubblica.

"We are expecting a renewed commitment from Israel, a binding promise to stop shooting. It is right to require that Hezbollah disarms, but we cannot send our soldiers if the Tsahal [Israeli army] keeps shooting," he added.

UN officials have reported occasional clashes between Israeli forces and suspected Hezbollah fighters and have criticised Israel for its ongoing flights over Beirut and southern Lebanon, suggesting they are in breach of the ceasefire resolution.

These violations "endanger the fragile calm" and "undermine the authority of the government of Lebanon," said Mr Annan, according to press reports.

The same message is likely to be spelled out to the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, today and tomorrow, as she tours the French and Italian capitals for talks on the Lebanon mission.

Ms Livni is meeting her French and Belgian counterparts Philippe Douste-Blazy and Karel De Gucht, as well as French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

On Thursday, the Israeli foreign minister will meet Italy's prime minister Romano Prodi and foreign minister Massimo D'Alema.

The UN force in Lebanon is to be expanded from the current 2,000 troops to up to 15,000 under a new UN resolution which ended 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah fighters.

About 1,300 Lebanese - mainly civilians - and 160 Israelis - mostly soldiers - have died in the conflict.