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German Navy in Command

DW staff (nda)October 15, 2006

The Italian navy Sunday handed over to German command the UN naval force tasked with intercepting arms shipments along Lebanon's coastline following Israel's war with the Shiite movement Hezbollah.

The German Navy's largest frigate, the Bayern, will lead the Bundesmarine missionImage: AP

Italy's Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi passed command of the beefed-up force to Germany's Admiral Andreas Krause during a ceremony aboard Italy's flagship Garibaldi aircraft carrier in Beirut harbor.

The ceremony was also attended by United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) commander Major General Alain Pellegrini who hailed the Italians' mission -- which helped end a crippling Israeli blockade of Lebanon -- as "a real success."

Germany has agreed to send up to 2,400 military personnel to Lebanon in the country's first mission in the Middle East since World War II.

Interception mission off Lebanon's coast

Bundesmarine nach Libanon Marinesoldaten
The German force consists of around 1000 marinesImage: AP

A German maritime fleet of eight ships including two frigates with about 1,000 soldiers on board arrived off Lebanon early October with a mandate to intercept arms shipments to the Shiite militia Hezbollah.

Krause accepted what he called a "truly demanding mission," saying his force was "prepared and ready to react when the situation demands."

Although Germany has committed ships to UNIFIL, having troops on the ground is a more sensitive issue because of the potential of conflict with Israeli troops.

De Giorgi hailed the "excellent" cooperation of the Lebanese navy, telling the Lebanese people that "you cried out your right to life (and) you shall rise up again."

Lebanese navy hopes to assume control

Libanon - Französische Marine
French and Italian ships make way for the GermansImage: AP

Lebanese deputy chief of staff for naval operations, Brigadier General Hassan Mohsen, expressed his "deep thanks and appreciation to Italy for their help after the last Israeli aggression" saying he hoped his under-equipped navy would soon have "the right equipment to lessen the UN's responsibility."

The initial naval force consisted of Italian, French, Greek and British ships and will now be replaced by a force from Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Norway, Sweden and Turkey.

Britain's Royal Navy said in a statement that during its mission the taskforce had "challenged over 1,000 vessels approaching Lebanese waters ... a handful were handed on to Lebanese authorities."

UNIFIL is enforcing a truce which ended fierce conflict between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia in July and August which left around 1,200 civilians in Lebanon and 162 Israelis dead. The war was sparked by the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah.