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German Navy Waits for Middle East Sailing Orders

DW staff (sms)
September 4, 2006

Political wrangling in Lebanon convinced the German government to postpone a cabinet meeting Monday to finalize plans for a Bundeswehr deployment to patrol Lebanon's Mediterranean coast.

German politicians said the deployment of Navy soldiers would be delayed but not called offImage: AP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to wait on making a decision on how many troops Germany would add to a United Nations peacekeeping force and what their exact mission would be until an official request for help comes from Beirut.

"I think that the talks that will take place in Lebanon have to be conducted to make a request possible," Merkel said Monday. "Then we will do things quickly, but not rush if the conditions are not right."

Germany needed a request to the UN, a "robust mandate" from the world body and the approval of the lower house of parliament for the mission, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told reporters on Sunday.

UN ground troops accepted by Beirut

Italienische UN-Soldaten der UNIFIl Mission im Libanon bewachen den Strand von Tyre
Italian soldiers moved into southern LebanonImage: AP

"Without such a request from Lebanon to the United Nations, the Bundeswehr cannot participate," he said. "We can only send troops if the rules of engagement are clear and there is a stated willingness on the part of Lebanon, communicated to the United Nations."

Italy has already received its marching orders from the UN, and some 890 of its soldiers arrived in Lebanon to strengthen the UN force already in place there. Additional French ground troops are also expected in the region by the end of the week.

The Lebanese government, including the two Hezbollah ministers, has not opposed a United Nations force marching into a buffer zone between Lebanon and Israel, but called protecting its marine borders a task for the national military.

Allowing a foreign country to stop ships on its coast, which Germany requests as part of its mandate, is a major intrusion into national sovereignty, which requires approval from the cabinet, Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh told German public broadcaster ARD on Sunday.

"We may discuss it (Monday) and reach a decision," he added.

German opposition calls for troops to stay home

Guido Westerwelle
Westerwelle said German troops should not deploy to the Middle EastImage: AP

The murky situation on the ground in Lebanon is reason enough for "Germany not to send any armed troops to the Middle East," according to the German opposition free market, liberal Free Democratic Party leader Guido Westerwelle.

But German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler told Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday that he did not see the political discussions in Lebanon as endangering a UN mission to the Middle East.

"There is no reason to call the entire mission into question," he said, adding that the West needed to understand the need for discussion inside the Lebanese government.

Israel wants forces in place before ending sea blockade

Bundesmarine nach Libanon Fregatte Bayern
Germany could lead a number of European nations offering naval forcesImage: AP

Berlin has ruled out sending ground troops to Lebanon, but Germany is widely expected to assume the naval command of the bolstered UN force that must police a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Putting an international force in place on Lebanon's coast is important for Lebanese businesses as an Israeli sea blockade has stopped goods from arriving in Lebanese ports since July, Lebanese business representatives told AFP.

Despite calls from the European Union and United Nations, Israel said it would not lift the blockade until an international force is put in place to stop weapons smuggling to Hezbollah fighters.

Government spokesman Wilhelm said the other nations which are likely to help protect Lebanon's coast -- Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden -- were also waiting for the green light from Beirut before sending naval forces to the region.

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