Italy threatens to withold troops unless Israel abides by cease-fire
Italy warned on Tuesday that unless Israel abides by the UN cease-fire agreement in Lebanon, it will withhold troops it had pledged to deploy as part of the multinational force in the region.
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema stated that if Israel "keeps shooting", it will be unable to participate in the United Nations peacekeeping force.
On Monday, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi had announced to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Italy would be willing to lead the multinational peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.
Italy had offered to deploy some 2,000 to 3,000 troops, the largest number of troops a single nation has yet committed to. A total of 15,000 are slated to be deployed under UN Resolution 1701.
"From Israel, we expect a renewed effort, this time truly binding, to respect the ceasefire," D'Alema told La Repubblica according to Reuters.
"It's fair to expect that Hezbollah put down their weapons, but we cannot send our troops to Lebanon if the [Israeli] army keeps shooting," D'Alema added.
Meanwhile, Lebanon's communications minister Marwan Hamade also called on France to take on greater involvement in the peacekeeping force. So far, France, which currently leads the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), has committed to only 400 troops.
"We would like first for it [France] to get more involved," Hamade said.
France is expected to retain command of UNIFIL until February.
The UN has stressed that the reinforcement of UNIFIL and deployment of the international force in South Lebanon are on the verge of collapse, and called on European member states to increase their commitments in the region.
Annan slams Israel for cease-fire violation
On Monday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that Israel's weekend military operation in the Baalbek region of Lebanon was in clear violation of the UN cease-fire agreement, according to Haaretz.
Israel claimed that since the UN agreement called for an arms embargo against Hizbullah, it was within its right to intercept what it believed to be an arms transfer across the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who met with Annan on Monday, said that Israel would consider political routes to deal with arms transfers to Hizbullah in the future, but stressed the importance of the deployment of an international force in the area.