Israel says welcome to Muslim troops

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The Independent Online

As European nations agreed to form the backbone of an expanded UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, Israel has been in touch with some Muslim countries to encourage them to participate.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said: "If Turkey decides to send a contingent, we would welcome that." He added that other countries have also been contacted.

Israel has said only countries that have diplomatic relations with it should participate, because otherwise it would be hard to share intelligence with the UN force. Jordan and Egypt also qualify.

Europe will send up to 6,900 troops to back 15,000 soldiers from the Lebanese army as they extend into south Lebanon - for now, Hizbollah territory - while Israel pulls its soldiers out. The Lebanese army, not the peacekeepers, is supposed to disarm Hezbollah.

France's General Jean Salvan, a former commander of peacekeepers in Lebanon, questioned the mission's potential effectiveness. "Hezbollah has had plenty of time either to hide its equipment very well or to bring it back to secure zones," he said. Peacekeepers are barred from such zones.

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