Italian soldiers began arriving Saturday in Lebanon, part of the first large contingent of international troops dispatched to boost the U.N. force keeping the peace between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.
Italian marines wearing blue berets arrived by helicopter in the Mediterranean port city of Tyre to secure two beaches where the remainder of an 880-strong battalion of Italian soldiers will land through the day. Another 200 Italian troops are expected Sunday in the capital, Beirut.
International troops have been slow to arrive in Lebanon since an Aug. 14 cease-fire brought an end to 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, in part because it took time to hammer out details over the troops' mandate.
Besides the Italian contingent, just 250 extra French soldiers have made it to the country, though France has said it will send a total of 2,000 troops.
Also Saturday, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda announced his country will send up to 1,000 troops to southern Lebanon by the month's end, after Israel dropped objections to its participation in the force. Israel had said it did not want Indonesia to take part because the predominantly Muslim nation did not have relations with the Jewish state.
The 2,000-strong U.N. force is to be expanded over the next few months to 15,000 under a U.N. Security Council resolution that paved the way for the cease-fire. The peacekeepers are supposed to deploy with an equal number of Lebanese soldiers across south Lebanon as Israeli forces withdraw from positions they invaded last month, leaving behind a buffer zone between Israel and Hezbollah.
The presence of more U.N. troops in Lebanon may help assuage fears of a renewal of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. But the peacekeepers will stay out of the most sensitive issues, both demanded by Israel: disarming Hezbollah and keeping the guerrillas from receiving fresh arms, especially via Lebanon's border with Syria.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said UNFIL will not disarm Hezbollah or police the Syrian border, and would only carry out those tasks if the Lebanese government asks them to. Hezbollah has vowed not to lay down its weapons and its fighters have melted away into the civilian population. Syria strongly opposes any international forces along its border.
Europe is providing the backbone of the force and has promised 6,900 soldiers for UNIFIL. Italy's contribution of 2,500 troops is the largest, second to France's 2,000, the first battalion of which is due in Lebanon Sept. 10.
Italy's Defense Ministry said its troops will include marines, engineers, military police and other specialists, as well as 158 vehicles including trucks and amphibious tracked vehicles.
The force will move 12 miles inland to an area temporarily assigned to it by the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon known as UNIFIL, the ministry said. Italian commanders have said the troops are likely to be deployed in and around Tyre.
France will initially lead the force, but Italy will take command of UNIFIL next year.
France is deploying heavy armor that French defense officials say will include Leclerc tanks, surface-to-surface artillery, short-range anti-aircraft missiles and radar — unusually heavy weapons for a peacekeeping force.
U.N. member states are given wide freedom to supply their missions the equipment as see fit. Still, peacekeeping deployments don't normally deploy such heavy equipment — though the U.N. has required nations to in some hot spots, as in Congo, where it has attack helicopters in use.
The truce between Israel and Hezbollah has held overall. Minor clashes and an Israeli raid into Lebanon have been reported. The war began when Hezbollah guerrillas kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid that provoked a fierce response from Israel, which invaded Lebanon and sent warplanes to bombard roads, bridges and homes across the country in daily airstrikes.
UNIFIL was created in 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli troops who invaded Lebanon the same year. Its troops have been helpless to stop repeated bouts of violence in south Lebanon, acting mainly as impotent observers.