Germany mulls sending troops to Lebanon
By Honor Mahony
Germany looks increasingly likely to agree to send troops to Lebanon with debate already raging in the country about the merits of the move six decades after the Holocaust.
With the Lebanon situation demanding quick decisions, defence minister Franz-Josef Jung is on Thursday in New York to present concrete proposals about German soldier participation in the international peace-keeping force.
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Speaking at a military base in Hanover on Tuesday, Mr Jung said he would illustrate where German capabilities are at the UN meeting.
Spiegel Online reports that chancellor Angela Merkel, the head of the conservatives in Bavaria, Edmond Stoiber, deputy chancellor Franz Muntefering and head of the SPD party Kurt Beck will hold an extraordinary meeting today to discuss the issue.
The high-ranked politicians will try and work out a common line on the possible sending of German soldiers to southern Lebanon with some politicians strongly against the move.
How to participate
Eckart von Klaeden, foreign policy spokesman for the conservatives in parliament, said it was more a question of how Germany would participate, not if it would participate.
"I think it is a given that we should contribute but what the contribution will look like will only come after ongoing talks," said Mr von Klaeden.
He indicated that one option would be for Germany to send its navy to patrol the coast off Lebanon and Israel.
Speaking to the Berliner Zeitung, Christian Schmidt, a conservative junior defence minister, said "Participating directly in the buffer zone in southern Lebanon is not a priority for us,"
But any participation in peace-keeping in the middle-east makes some Germans uneasy - picturing a situation where Germans would have to shoot at Israeli soldiers.
Before today's meeting, Mr Beck said he wanted to avoid any situation where German and Israeli soldiers come in conflict with one another.
Mr Stoiber, who is strongly against the deployment of German troops in the area for peace-keeping purposes, suggested that the country could help in other ways such as in the building up of a Lebanese security structure or technical support for police and security exercises.
He referred to the Germany's "particular history" as a reason for not using German soldiers on the Lebanon-Israel border.
Israel not against
Israel itself has said it would not be against Germany's participation.
In a recent interview with the Suddeutsche newspaper, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said he had told the chancellor that Israel had "absolutely no problem with German soldiers in southern Lebanon".
"There is at the moment no nation that is behaving in a more friendly way towards Israel than Germany," Mr Olmert said. "If Germany can contribute to the security of the Israeli people, that would be a worthwhile task for your country".
The number UN troops in Lebanon is supposed to be pumped up from the current 2000 to a total of 15,000 soldiers.
Yesterday a UN official said 3,500 troops could already be deployed to Lebanon within two weeks to reinforce the current UN peacekeeping contingent so the Lebanese army can start moving into the south of Lebanon and Israeli troops can withdraw,
Several European countries have indicated they will participate in the UN force including France – expected to lead it – Italy, Spain and Turkey.