U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is praising Turkey's decision to join the expanded U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. Turkey is the first Muslim nation with diplomatic ties to Israel to pledge troops to the force.
Turkey's ruling party lawmakers have approved the deployment of troops to join the U.N. peacekeeping mission. This came despite objections by opposition party members and street protests by thousands of people.
Turkish officials say they will send around 1,000 military personnel to conduct naval patrols off Lebanon and to help train Lebanese troops.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met Wednesday in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr. Annan praised Turkey's troop commitment. He called its role in the region crucial to implementing U.N. resolution 1701, which ended Israel's 34-day war with Hezbollah troops in Lebanon. But he said a national consensus in Lebanon is needed to disarm Hezbollah fighters, not military force by international troops.
"The mandate is clear, the troops are not there to disarm Hezbollah,” Annan said. “They are there to play the role I have described, to work with the government of Lebanon and the Lebanese army to extend this authority throughout the territory."
Mr. Annan also reiterated his desire for Israel to lift its eight-week-old air and sea blockade of Lebanon.
Israeli troops are still holding some border positions they seized during last month's war, but are gradually handing them over to the interim U.N. force in Lebanon known as UNIFIL. UNIFIL then turns over control of those posts to the Lebanese army.
The secretary-general says Israel's complete withdrawal is crucial to the eventual deployment of 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers in the region.
"I agreed with them,” he explained, “that when 5,000 international troops are on the ground, who are going to combine with the Lebanese troops to cover southern Lebanon, we would have a credible force and it would be time for Israel to withdraw completely, and that withdrawal is going on."
Mr. Annan also said a mediator he appointed for indirect talks between Israel and Hezbollah on the release of two abducted Israeli soldiers will be in the region by the end of the week. Hezbollah has said the soldiers will only be freed in return for Lebanese prisoners held in Israel.