The Italian government gave final approval for sending troops to Lebanon as part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission. The first contingent is expected to set sail tomorrow from southern Italy.
As was widely expected, an extraordinary Italian Cabinet meeting unanimously approved the deployment of Italian troops in South Lebanon. Twenty-five-hundred Italian troops will take part in the expanded U.N. mission, which must supervise a truce between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.
Italy has pledged the largest number of troops to the mission. Foreign Minister Massimo d'Alema said Italy's commitment is significant. He also said the U.N. mission was an opportunity for the international community to work toward peace in the region.
Italian Foreign Minister D'Alema said the the government also approved more than $30 million for a major aid package for civilian, humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in Lebanon. He said the funding will make Italy one of the major donors in the area.
Defense Minister Arturo Parisi said that Italian troops will be deployed in two phases. In the first phase, covering September and October, Italy plans to have 1,000 troops on the ground and the rest on an aircraft carrier and four other ships. The last two months of the year, Italy will have 2,450 troops on the ground, and around 200 on the ships.
The first Italian troops will set sail Tuesday from the southern port of Brindisi. A naval task force, led by the Giuseppe Garibaldi aircraft carrier, will transport the first 1,000 troops, including marines and military engineers. The task force should arrive in Lebanese waters on Friday.
Italy will immediately be running the peacekeeping mission's new strategic command center in New York. In February of next year it will then take command of U.N. peacekeepers on the ground in Lebanon. Until then, France will command the U.N. force. Turkey also says it has agreed to contribute troops, pending parliamentary approval.