Germany oks Lebanon mission
Updated: 2006-09-14 10:03

BEIRUT - Germany's cabinet approved "historic" plans on Wednesday to send naval and air forces to Lebanon to help guarantee security after Israel's one-month war against Hizbollah guerrillas.

A 2,400-strong German naval contingent will patrol Lebanon's coast to prevent weapons reaching Hizbollah to help enforce the U.N.-sponsored truce that ended the war.

"Sending troops to the Middle East is for us a historic decision," Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Germany's traditional caution over committing forces abroad -- because of memories of Nazi militarism -- is even more pronounced when it comes to the Middle East, and Jewish memories of the Nazi Holocaust.

Russia also said it would send up to 400 troops -- to concentrate on rebuilding infrastructure destroyed in Israel's offensive.

The Russian soldiers will work independently of the U.N. peacekeeping force, which is being reinforced to pave the way for a complete Israeli troop withdrawal from south Lebanon.

Around 3,750 UNIFIL peacekeepers are now in Lebanon and their number is expected to swell to 5,000 over the weekend with the arrival of more French and Spanish troops.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said Israel should complete its pullout once 5,000 peacekeepers are deployed.

UNIFIL spokesman Alexander Ivanko said Israeli forces were still present in a "snakelike area" just north of the Israeli-Lebanese border, stretching north-east from the coast, but declined to say how many were still inside Lebanon.

Lebanon had complained that along one sector of the border Israeli forces were building a fence 10 to 15 metres (yards) inside Lebanese territory, Ivanko said.

"We have raised it with Israel," he said, adding that Israeli officials told UNIFIL the new fence was a temporary protective measure while they work on the main border fence.

"They will take it down," he said.


Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said that, despite Israel's military offensive, his group remained in border villages. "Even pushing back Hizbollah from the border wasn't achieved," he said in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.

"We are sons of the land and no one can prevent us from being present and defending our land. We are present at the border," Nasrallah told Al Jazeera television.

Israel launched its 34-day war with Hizbollah after the Shi'ite Muslim group captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.

Nearly 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon in the war, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis died.

Israel has demanded the unconditional release of the two soldiers, but Defence Minister Amir Peretz signalled on Wednesday that it might consider releasing a long-held Lebanese prisoner, Samir al-Qantar, in exchange.

"The question of Qantar remains on the agenda in every incident (prisoner exchange) involving Hizbollah," Peretz said.

In 1979 Qantar took part in the killings of an Israeli, his 4-year-old daughter and a policeman in northern Israel. Witnesses said Qantar, aged 17 at the time of his arrest, shot the man and then smashed the girl's head with his rifle butt.

Nasrallah said no agreement with Israel would be possible without Qantar's release.