The German government has ruled out sending ground troops equipped for combat as part of a peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced late Thursday.
The proposed deployment of German ground troops in Lebanon has caused controversy
However, Germany plans to send a "maritime protection component" with its navy taking part in the future international peacekeeping force planned for the region to secure seaways off the coast of Israel and Lebanon, Merkel said.
Germany is also considering making available forces for logistics, air transport and reconnaissance, Merkel added.
But she said any German participation hinged on the United Nations establishing clear rules of engagement, as well as it receiving approval by the Lebanese government and German lower house of parliament.
"The rules of the deployment are expected to be worked out in the next few days," Merkel said.
Merkel added that contributing to a future peace mission in Lebanon was "in Germany's fundamental interests.'' To forego the opportunity, citing events in the Middle East as "too complicated,'' would "cost Germany massively in terms of international influence,'' she said.
Merkel needs the support of parliament and coalition ministers from her Christian Democrats and from the Social Democrats to approve military help in Lebanon.
Merkel rules out Syrian border patrol
The chancellor ruled out a proposal by Social Democrat leader Kurt Beck to send German police to safeguard Lebanon's border with Syria. Police federation groups rejected the plan, saying they are not equipped or trained for military service.
German navy frigates are likely to be deployed
Merkel also indicated she foresaw sending a German navy hospital ship to treat injured civilians. The defense ministry said such a ship would be available immediately.
The German navy already has a presence in the region, participating in Operation Active Endeavour, which was launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, to monitor ships and escort non-military vessels through the Straits of Gibraltar.
German naval force to patrol Lebanese coast
German UN Ambassador Thomas Matussek speaking in New York on Thursday said: "Today I was in a position to offer a rather substantive maritime component which is so encompassing that it could patrol and secure the whole of the Lebanese coast to make sure that no weapons or other related materials get into Lebanon."
The United Nations, meeting in New York to try to thrash out the make-up of the expanded peacekeeping force to be deployed in southern Lebanon after a month of deadly conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, outlined a "robust" mandate for thousands of international peacekeepers to be deployed and called on member states to pledge troops to secure the ceasefire which has tentatively held now for four days following a month of fierce fighting.
UN members are close to agreeing on a Lebanon force
Matussek said nearly all the delegations speaking at the closed-door meeting had offered troops for the force. "If I add it up, I think we are almost there," he said. Ten to 15 delegations had made some sort of commitment to the force, he said. Germany, however, would not be one of those contributing combat troops to the Lebanon force.
Germany has about 7,700 military personnel serving abroad, including in the Mediterranean Sea and off the Horn of Africa. The army's budget, amounting this year to 23.8 billion euros ($30.5 billion), has remained static in real terms since 2002.
Steinmeier considers Syrian dialogue
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday he was still open to talks with Syria, two days after canceling a visit because President Bashar al-Assad described Israel as "an enemy."
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Steinmeier told Deutschlandfunk radio that he held out hope Syria could play a constructive role in working toward a lasting peace between Israel and the Hezbollah militia but said Damascus must show it is willing.
"I explained my decision, which was the only one I could make, to the Syrian foreign minister and told him that my position remained unchanged that we have grounds and an opportunity to draw Syria into a constructive role in the stabilization process" of Lebanon, Steinmeier said.
"I am unsatisfied with the fact that what I had planned and what I consider to be right -- integrating Syria into the process -- did not succeed. That is why I told my colleague we are ready for dialogue but not at any cost."
Steinmeier had been due to arrive in Syria on Tuesday evening and hold talks with Assad the following day as part of a tour that also took in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The trip was intended to urge regional powers to foster a lasting peace in Lebanon.
Syrian President Bashar Assad
Assad had said in a wide-ranging speech that it was an honor for Syria to support the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah in its struggle against Israel and described resistance against the Jewish state as legitimate.
Steinmeier told Deutschlandfunk that Assad's remarks had left him with no other choice than to cancel the visit. "What we need is verbal disarmament and we need contributions to the stabilization of a still fragile truce. What we surely do not need are calls to resistance against all those who attempt to secure this ceasefire."
Steinmeier had indicated in an interview this week that he was prepared to offer economic incentives to Syria in exchange for its cooperation in peace efforts.