There was concern at UN headquarters that the reinforcement of UNIFIL and deployment of the international force in South Lebanon are on the verge of collapse.

Senior UN officials warned that unless European member states immediately declare their participation and the extent of troops and equipment they mean to contribute, the efforts to create a peacekeeping force will fail.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), now 2,000-strong, is, according to the UN resolution, to be expended to 15,000 soldiers . However, concern is growing over the ongoing delay in recruitment and worries about European reluctance to contribute to the peacekeeping force.

France has only committed to doubling its contingent of 200 troops in the force, disappointing the UN and raising doubts about Paris‘ involvement in the expanded force approved after more than a month of clashes between and Hezbollah.

Lebanon’s communications minister called Monday for greater French involvement in the UN peacekeeping force, which, in accordance with Resolution 1701, is slated to be expanded to 15,000 troops.

"We would like first for it [] to get more involved," said Marwan Hamade on France-Info radio.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Massimo said today that it would be unable to send troops if Israel does not abide by the conditions of the cease-fire spelled out in UN Resolution 1701. Italy has offered to lead a United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon.

Later on Tuesday, Italy asked current European Union president to arrange an urgent meeting of foreign ministers to discuss Europe’s contribution to the UN peackeeping mission. Rome‘s government said.Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema wants the meeting held as early as Friday in Brussels, said a ministry spokesman.

Complaining about Israel’s military actions after the cease-fire with Hezbollah had been declared, D’Alema said "from Israel, we expect a renewed effort, this time truly binding, to respect the ceasefire."

"It’s fair to expect that Hezbollah put down their weapons, but we cannot send our troops to if the [Israeli] army keeps shooting."

Italy has said it would be prepared to send 3,000 soldiers – the largest contingent to date – but has not committed to specific numbers. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Monday that he has informed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that is ready to lead the multinational peacekeeping force.

The general feeling among diplomats and commentators in New York on Monday was that the UN had not yet managed to persuade the European and leading countries in the world organization to send troops in substantial numbers to reinforce UNIFIL.

"The member states that are displaying interest in participating in the force, and particularly the Europeans, are still waiting for clear-cut clarifications from the UN on the question of the rules of engagement under which the troops will operate," diplomats said.

Le Monde, the French  newspaper said it had obtained a copy of a 21-page document laying out the provisional rules of engagement for the force, newly strengthened under a UN Security Council resolution.

United Nations peacekeeping troops deployed in Lebanon will likely have the right to open fire to defend themselves and to protect civilians, but will be barred from actively searching for Hezbollah weapons,

The document, not yet approved, was stamped "UN Restricted," the newspaper said.

Under the terms currently being discussed, the peacekeepers would operate mostly defensively, though they would be cleared to "use appropriate and credible force … if necessary," Le Monde said, citing the document.

The force would be authorized to prevent hostile activities in a buffer zone in southern ; to counter anyone who tries to prevent peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate; and to "protect civilians in immediate threat of physical violence," Le Monde said, citing the document.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who Monday distributed to the Security Council his first report on implementation of the cease-fire, is expected to conduct a briefing Tuesday for Security Council members on the situation in the Middle East.

This is a regular monthly briefing, but Annan will likely use his appearance before the Security Council to warn of the threat to the cease-fire caused by the delay in recruiting reinforcements for the UNIFIL.