UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced over the weekend, after meeting with European Foreign Ministers in Brussels, that Europe will send 7,000 troops to the international force to be deployed in south Lebanon.
“Europe is now the backbone of the force, and now we can begin assembling a reliable force,” Annan said in a press conference in Brussels.
Annan suggested that France will first lead the force until February 2007, to be followed then by Italy. The Finnish Foreign Minister estimated that the entire force will be operational within two to three months. Italy pledged to send 3,000 soldiers, compared to France which will send 2,000 troops, Poland, which will send 500, and Belgium, which will send 400. In addition, more troops are expected to come from Holland, as well as Germany, which will probably send 1,200 troops to the force.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni expressed her satisfaction from the international effort and said that its test will be on the ground, fulfilling the tasks they were given in the UN resolution.
Livni left for Germany yesterday where she will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that the UN will define a demilitarized zone in south Lebanon where anyone who is not authorized will be dismantled of their weapons. “We think that the best way to rid Hizballah of their weapons is to create such a zone with the simultaneous withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces and the deployment of the Lebanese army and the multinational force,” he said.
At the same time, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana called on Israel to lift the sea and air blockade it imposed on Lebanon in reaction to the kidnapping of the soldiers and the fighting against Hizballah.