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Formation of Peacekeeping Force in Southern Lebanon Expected to Start Soon


Consultations are expected to begin this week among governments intending to take part in a peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. Among those expected to contribute troops to in the U.N.-approved force are France, Italy, and Turkey.

The resolution unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council authorizes the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force of about 15,000 troops to help an equal number of soldiers from the Lebanese army take control of southern Lebanon.

But consultations are still needed to hammer out the force's make-up and mandate. Analysts say France is likely to lead such a force, given its diplomatic success in acting as go-between in negotiations involving the United States and Lebanon.

As France had argued in the Security Council, the resolution strengthens the existing U.N. force in southern Lebanon - UNIFIL, which now has 2,000 soldiers acting as observers, and has been in place since 1978.

France participates in UNIFIL, and is expected to determine how many more peacekeepers it will deploy after evaluating the force's mandate.

Italy has confirmed its willingness to take part in the U.N. peace force and has said it wants to participate from the start in the consultations. Rome has indicated it is ready to make available up to 3,500 men from all its armed forces.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Italy takes part in U.N. missions. The rules of engagement, he added, will be decided during the next few days, but these are clearly peace missions.

The prime minister is to meet with Defense Minister Arturo Parisi and Foreign Minister Massimo d'Alema to discuss Italy's participation. The foreign minister is expected to travel Monday to Beirut, and then on to Egypt as part of Italy's diplomatic efforts to end the violence.

Predominantly Muslim nations have also expressed willingness to provide peacekeepers. Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul says his government will look "very favorably" toward sending peacekeepers, but only after a full cease-fire.

Pope Benedict the Sixteenth expressed hope that a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah militants is close at hand.

The pope said the latest developments "lead us to hope that fighting will finally cease, and that humanitarian assistance will be promptly and effectively guaranteed to the people affected by the conflict in southern Lebanon."

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