Livni: Int'l community must bolster UNIFIL 'as quickly as possible'
FM to meet Italian leaders; Chirac to make announcement on French deployment; EU: More troops to arrive within week.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday urged the international community to act as quickly as possible to deploy a United Nations force to keep the peace in southern Lebanon.
Livni told Sky TV 24 that the situation on the ground is "explosive."
"The international community must act as quickly as possible," Livni said.
"Israel from the beginning knew help was needed to help the Lebanese Army... Now the ball is in the European court."
European Union president Finland said Thursday it hopes to see the first reinforcements arrive in Lebanon to boost the United Nations peacekeeping force within a week and the main deployment should take a few more weeks.
As Italy appears on the verge of taking on a major role in an expanded United Nations peacekeeping mission, Livni was to meet Thursday with her Italian counterpart Massimo D'Alema and Premier Romano Prodi.
"We would like to see the first reinforcements arrive within a week if possible," Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said after meeting his German counterpart.
He hoped to have specific commitments for the force from EU states on Friday when foreign ministers from the 25-member bloc meet.
"The main thrust of the force should be there within a few weeks," said Tuomioja, adding that the full deployment could take months.
EU states agreed on Wednesday to provide a major contingent for an expanded UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
Italy has pledged 3,000 troops but so far other offers have been meager. Many countries are worried they will get involved in a conflict without an adequate mandate to defend themselves.
French President Jacques Chirac will appear on television Thursday to announce whether France will send more troops to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, his office said.
Chirac was to make the announcement around 9 P.M. Israel time, after a Cabinet meeting.
The French President is scheduled to meet in the afternoon cabinet members Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and European Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna, government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said.
The meeting will cover issues concerning the Middle East, Cope said.
Livni set to meet Italian PM, FM Foreign Minister Livni is scheduled to meet on Thursday with Italian Foreign Minister D'Alema in Rome and later travel to the Tuscan town of Grosseto to meet with Prime Minister Prodi, who is vacationing at the nearby seaside resort of Castiglione della Pescaia.
The talks are expected to focus on the shaping of the peacekeeping mission, as most EU nations remain wary of making firm commitments until the mandate for the new force is clarified, fearing that their troops could be dragged into a conflict with Hezbollah militants based in south Lebanon or with Israel if the current cease-fire between them collapses.
D'Alema said earlier this week that Hezbollah must lay down its arms but that Israel must also respect the cease-fire if Italy is to send troops to Lebanon.
Italy has said it would be willing to lead the peace mission and has so far pledged the largest contingent for the force, offering to send in up to 3,000 troops.
Prodi has been pushing for more countries to contribute troops to the mission.
Livni said Wednesday following a day of talks in Paris, that she believes European states will expand their contributions to a planned international force in Lebanon.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said French President Jacques Chirac would announce France's final troop contribution by Thursday, when the European Union holds an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss contributions to the international force.
Over the last few days, France has been roundly criticized for announcing that it would send only 200 additional troops, on top of the 200 French troops already serving in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
But a source in Livni's entourage said Douste-Blazy led her to understand that Chirac would announce a sizable increase in this figure by Friday.
Peretz meets Belgian FM Defense Minister Amir Peretz met Thursday with Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht in Tel Aviv.
Peretz told De Gucht the multi-national force must also deploy along the Lebanon-Syria border, in order to prevent Iran from regaining access to its channels of control in south Lebanon.
He added that a financial task force should be set up to rehabilitate south Lebanon, so that Iran would not be the major player in the rehabilitation of the country, a fact it would leverage to promote its interests.
De Gucht said Wednesday that his country is seriously considering sending several hundreds of troops to Lebanon and that the Belgian cabinet will discuss the matter this week.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Wednesday about the progress in building the multi-national force in Lebanon.
Olmert told her that the sea and air blockade on Lebanon would persist until the multi-national force is deployed. According to a political source in Jerusalem, Rice agreed with him: "Before the arrival of the multi-national force, the situation cannot change. "
UN to set up peacekeeping HQ center in Cyprus The United Nations will set up an administration centre in Nicosia for the transfer of peacekeeping troops to Lebanon, Cyprus said on Thursday.
Cypriot Foreign Minister George Lillikas told reporters the UN had informed the government several days ago.
Last week Cyprus offered to act as a transit point for the movement of troops to bolster the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon, which will uphold the August 11 Security Council resolution 1701, which called for a truce between Israel and Hezbollah and the deployment of a UN force of up to 15,000 troops.
"The UN has decided to set up the centre of administration in Cyprus for the peacekeeping force," said Lillikas.
"In collaboration with the United Nations and UNFICYP, we will create the essential infrastructure." Lillikas was on his way to Lebanon for one-day talks with the Lebanese leadership.