Can the U.N. Peacekeepers Keep Lebanon Peaceful?

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An Italian UNIFIL armored vehicle passes by destroyed houses as it patrols in the southern Lebanese town of Srifa, September 3, 2006.

Two Italian armored cars, painted in camouflage colors, disembark from the landing craft and grind up the sandy beach in this small southern Lebanese port. Other landing craft bob in the swell, waiting their turn to offload more armored vehicles and trucks. In Tyre, 10 miles to the north, gray Sea King helicopters clatter low over the Mediterranean, ferrying some 880 Italian commandos from five ships anchored off the coast. And with the first of some 2,000 French soldiers due to arrive in Lebanon this week, the reinforcement of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, is under way in earnest.

Nearly a month after fighting ended between Israel and Lebanese Hizballah guerrillas, the cease-fire continues to hold. Lebanon has begun the daunting task of repairing the estimated $3.6 billion of damage to homes and infrastructure, buoyed by nearly $1 billion in international support pledged at a donors' conference in Sweden last week. But Israel continues to impose a partial blockade on Lebanon, restricting air traffic to and from Beirut and limiting access to Lebanese ports. The blockade has spurred Lebanese lawmakers to stage an open-ended sit-in inside parliament, and the Lebanese government has petitioned the U.N. Security Council to force Israel to call off the siege. Israel says it will maintain the blockade until Lebanon's sea and land borders are secure, to prevent the re-arming of Hizballah.

But Hizballah, for now, has swapped military action for reconstruction, shoring up its support base in the Shi'ite community, which is recovering from the devastating, month-long war. "Now, we are coming out of a war, and we are not in a hurry for staging operations in the Shebaa Farms," Hizballah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah told Lebanon's As Safir newspaper Tuesday. The Shebaa Farms is an Israeli-occupied mountainside on Lebanon's southeast border, which Hizballah claims is Lebanese territory although the United Nations designates it as part of Syria.

Hizballah's non-military focus is good news for those countries offering to contribute peacekeeping troops. The process of building up UNIFIL 2 — as the ramped-up U.N. mission is being dubbed — got off to a slow start because potential troop contributors feared that their soldiers could become mired in renewed fighting between Hizballah and Israel.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the fighting on August 14, calls for the reinforcing of UNIFIL from 2,000 troops to a maximum of 15,000. Italy has pledged 3,000 soldiers and will take over the command of the force from France in February when it is expected the force will reach the 15,000 target. France plans to dispatch 2,000 troops, and Spain and Poland will also contribute to the new force.

UNIFIL 2 will also have more robust rules of engagement than its predecessor. The French contingent reportedly is bringing with it tanks and heavy artillery — equipment not normally associated with peacekeeping. But the beefed-up force and heavily armed European troops will provide the "fundamental framework to prevent the resumption of hostilities," Jean-Marie Guehenno, the U.N. undersecretary for peacekeeping operations, told TIME.

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