German, Lebanese Leaders Discuss UN Buffer Force | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.08.2006
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German, Lebanese Leaders Discuss UN Buffer Force

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora have spoken about Berlin's contribution to a beefed-up UN peacekeeping force in war-battered southern Lebanon.

Germany will likely take command of the naval operation off the coast of Lebanon

Germany will likely take command of the naval operation off the coast of Lebanon

Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told reporters it appeared increasingly likely that Berlin would assume the naval command of the bolstered force but that the details of the rules of engagement were still being hammered out by the contributing countries.

"It appears very likely -- and this is implicit in our offer -- that Germany will take the command of the operation but we will not be the only ones" participating in the naval force along the Lebanese coast to stop the flow of weapons, he said.

Cabinet to meet for approval

Wilhelm said the telephone conversation between the two leaders cleared up final details, allowing Siniora to make a formal request at the United Nations for the naval force. He said the German cabinet would meet early next week to finalize the offer, which must also be approved by the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

Germany has also accepted in principle a request by Beirut to offer technical assistance to the Lebanese border police at frontier checkpoints and airports.

Libanesischer Premier Minister Fuad Siniora

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora

Merkel has ruled out the deployment of German troops in the volatile border region between Lebanon and Israel because memories of the German-engineered Holocaust are still raw in the Jewish state.

The EU has agreed to provide 7,000 troops to the international force to help maintain a fragile ceasefire that ended a month of deadly Israeli strikes on the country and rocket attacks by Hezbollah militants against Israel.

Phone call with Damascus

Also on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke by telephone with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Mouallem. It was the first conversation between Germany and Syria since Steinmeier cancelled a trip there two weeks ago. The Syrian state news agency said the two discussed how Middle East peace could emerge from the conflict in Lebanon.

Bashar Assad

Steinmeier canceled his Syria trip after a speech by Bashar al-Assad

The conversation was initiated by Syria, according to a German foreign ministry spokesperson. There are as yet no plans for a trip by Steinmeier to Damascus, although Germany is still interested in Syria's becoming involved in working toward a solution to the Middle East conflict.

Steinmeier gave as the reason for canceling a planned Aug. 15 trip to Damascus a speech given by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in which he talked about the "victorious resistance" of the Hezbollah militants and blamed Israel for its "planned aggression" against Lebanon.

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