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4th Mar 2024

EU to provide 'backbone' of Lebanon force

A meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Friday (25 August) saw member states commit up to 9,000 troops to a UN force to oversee the fragile ceasefire in Lebanon.

The agreement means that thousands of UN troops will be deployed to the region within as little as a week.

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UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who also attended the meeting in Brussels, welcomed the EU pledges saying they amounted to over half of the total 15,000 troops envisaged under the UN resolution governing the ceasefire.

"More than half the force has been pledged today. Not only troops on the ground but we also got naval assets as well as air assets and when you put it altogether Europe is providing the backbone to the force," he said.

"We're approaching this in three phases. The first phase, we would want to get in about 3,000 to 4,000 men very quickly, in the next few days or a week. And then we will have a second and a third phase to complete our deployment," Kofi Annan said.

The exact number of troops pledged remains unclear with foreign ministers after the meeting giving estimates that ranged between 7000 and 9000.

Italy has pledged the most troops with 3000, it is followed by France with 2000 and Spain with up to 1,200. Other smaller countries are also contributing with Poland expected to send 500 troops, Belgium up to 400 and Finland around 250. Germany will provide marine units.

The meeting also resolved who would head the mission after both France and Italy threw their hats in the ring. France will oversee the ground mission for the first months until February when Italy will then take over.

The EU's commitment ends weeks of hesitation by member states which had reflected badly on the bloc as whole.

With the US not contributing and Israel so far rejecting offers by countries such as Malaysia, which do not recognise the Jewish state, the pressure had been mounting on the EU to make good on its vague promises.

The breakthrough came on Thursday when French president Jacques Chirac said he had received "guarantees" on the mandate which allowed him to commit 2000 troops instead of the previous offer of 200.

Referring to the unclear mandate, which had caused so many countries to hesitate, Mr Annan told foreign ministers that Hizbollah would only be disarmed as part of a political process, but that if UN troops encountered a situation on the ground, they would be able to act.

Mr Annan also told ministers that he was in discussion with Turkey about it sending troops.

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