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Lebanese Security To Increase After Israel Pulls Out Troops

By Colum Lynch

Special to The Washington Post -- UNITED NATIONS

The United Nations may roughly double the size of its peacekeeping mission in Southern Lebanon, from 4,500 troops to as many as 8,000 troops, to fill a security vacuum following an Israeli pullout expected before July 7, U.S. and U.N. diplomats said Thursday.

The additional peacekeepers would police Lebanese territory now under Israeli control and patrol the country’s border with northern Israel. Diplomats said the U.N. already has asked several countries to provide armored personnel carriers, communications equipment and other logistical assistance.

The U.N. Security Council Thursday formally requested that Secretary General Kofi Annan begin preparations for the Israeli withdrawal. Annan dispatched his Middle East envoy, Terje Roed Larsen, to seek the cooperation of key countries -- Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Larsen, a Norwegian diplomat, was instrumental in the secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that led to the 1994 Oslo Accords. “Cooperation by all parties concerned will be required in order to avoid a deterioration,” according to a joint statement by the Security Council.

Israel hopes the peacekeepers will prevent Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas and Palestinian militants from launching cross-border raids against northern Israel after the withdrawal, according to diplomats here. However, it is unclear whether the countries likely to contribute additional troops, such as France, Ireland and Fiji, will authorize them to use force to stop such raids.

Diplomats said Thursday that a number of countries have expressed willingness to send additional troops, but only if the U.N. is able to reach an understanding that Syria and Lebanon will restrain the anti-Israeli guerrillas.

The United States will not provide troops for the mission.

Some diplomats said there are reasons to be optimistic that the Israeli withdrawal will occur peacefully. First, there is an emerging consensus among the key Security Council members -- the United States, France, Russia and Tunisia -- over the need for a reinforced U.N. mission in southern Lebanon.

They also cite the involvement of Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa in drafting Thursday’s Security Council statement as a sign that Damascus, the main power broker in Lebanon, may also cooperate.