France, which led calls for a robust international force to
safeguard the United Nations (UN) ceasefire between Hezbollah and Israel, has agreed to send
up to 7,000 soldiers to Lebanon, some of whom have already brgun to arrive.  

France had originally offered only 200 soldiers, which was a great disappointment to the International
Community and France
was criticized abroad for its meager, hesitant approach, since the French
government was heavily involved in the UN negotiations that led to the
ceasefire 12 days ago.  The country has since then substantially increased its offer of soldiers.

The French foreign minister reported today, "With the commitments that were made around the table today, we get to 6,500 to 7,000 troops."

Jacques Chirac, the French president, said in a televised
address on Thursday:, "At least two thousand French troops will be placed under the
United Nations in Lebanon.
is ready, if the United Nations wishes, to continue commanding this force."

initially offered to double its force in Lebanon
to 400, disappointing many UN diplomats who had expected Paris to provide the backbone of the mission

After winning assurances from the UN that the troops would
be able to defend themselves fully if they came under attack, and could use
force to protect civilians, Paris
agreed to rethink its troop deployment.

French officials defended their caution, citing previous
disastrous peacekeeping missions to Lebanon
and Bosnia, where France lost
dozens of men and felt hindered by restrictive UN terms of engagement.

"In a situation where everyone is weighing up the
difficulty, France will
assume its responsibilities in Lebanon,"
Chirac said.

"This force must be put in place but it must be based
on a fair division of the troops. I have spoken to my colleagues to convince
them to take on their share."

After France's
initial offer, Italy
promised up to 3,000 troops and offered to take command of the operation.

The UN has about 2,000 soldiers in Lebanon and
wants to raise this number to up to 15,000 to police a shaky ceasefire that
ended a month of fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah.

EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Friday to discuss their response
to the UN operation which has so far been very cautious and hesitant. However, Chirac's
offer of 2,000 troops breaks the impasse.

His government's change of mind opens the way for the
formation of a 15,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force, as specified in
the U.N.ceasefire resolution.

Other European countries, which have been hesitant about
offering soldiers, are likely to follow France's
lead by making firm commitments at a meeting in Brussels today.

Mr Chirac insisted last night in a televised address he had
been awaiting the necessary guarantees from the UN about the mandate and rules
of engagement. He does not see the international force's role as disarmament of
the Shia militia Hezbullah, as demanded by Israel. Although France fears confrontation with Hezbullah – 58
French troops died after intervention in Lebanon two decades ago – it is
also worried about Israeli attacks.

 At a European Union foreign ministers' meeting today, Italy will reiterate its offer of 3,000 troops
and Spain
could pledge about 1,000. Germany
has offered troops mainly in support roles, and smaller countries, such as Finland, have
promised contributions. It would be one of the biggest and fastest EU

Indonesia and Bangladesh have offered troops but Israel ruled
out the presence of countries with which it has no diplomatic relations. A UK official said he hoped Israel's
objections were only tactical, and argued that a precedent had been set by the
existence of Unifil, a 2,000-strong UN force on the border which has contained
troops from countries with which it has no diplomatic ties.