Bush Pushes for Quick UNIFIL Expansion

U.S. President George W. Bush called for quick action by countries who had pledged their troops to expand the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). “The need is urgent,” he said.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 20:56

Speaking Monday in his first full-scale news conference in more than a month, Bush underscored the importance of deploying additional peacekeeping troops in southern Lebanon in order to avoid a collapse of the ceasefire between Israel and Hizbullah terrorists.

Bush pledged an additional $230 million in humanitarian aid to help civilians in southern Lebanon rebuild their lives, but declined to commit troops to the area. Instead, the U.S. will provide logistical support, command and control assistance and intelligence. “America will do our part,” said Bush.

Thousands of promised soldiers have been held back by their respective countries due to a lack of clarity about the role they are to play. Most of the European nations that pledged to send the troops which are to eventually comprise a 15,000-strong UNIFIL force refuse to send even one soldier until they have clear guidelines regarding the circumstances under which they would be allowed to fire their weapons.

“The international community must now designate the leadership of this new international force,” said Bush, “give it robust rules of engagement and deploy it as quickly as possible to secure the peace.”

The current U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is slated for expansion from its current 2,000 soldiers to 15,000 by October - if the the international body can succeed in convincing the countries that pledged troops to keep their promises.

Italy said Monday it will take the lead in the new multinational force and has promised to send up to 3,000 troops -- the largest contingent to date -- but has not been specific about when they would arrive and exactly how many would be sent.

The United States is also planning to introduce a new resolution in the United Nations Security Council calling for disarming Hizbullah in southern Lebanon, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said Monday.

He emphasized that the move would not delay the deployment of the international force in Lebanon. The ceasefire resolution last week prohibits weapons in the area unless authorized by the Lebanese government, but does not provide for a means to disarm Hizbullah.

The Lebanese government has categorically stated it would not try to disarm the terrorist organization. Most countries participating in the force have said the same.