Tanks, other equipment for French peacekeepers arrives in Beirut

Tuesday, September 12th 2006, 10:27 am
By: News On 6

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Tanks, artillery trucks and other equipment for French peacekeepers rolled off a cargo ship Tuesday in Beirut to help them monitor a U.N.-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, a spokesman said.

French forces were deploying throughout the week in Lebanon in an enhanced deployment for the 28-year-old U.N. peacekeeping force in the south of the country.

Thirteen Leclerc tanks, artillery trucks, Cobra radar systems and dozens of armored vehicles and transport trucks were unloaded in the capital's port.

Dozens of French soldiers, some sitting on their new blue helmets in the shade of shipping containers, waited as the equipment came off the hulking cargo ship.

The Leclerc, which is operated by a crew of three, will be the heavyweight vehicle of the French forces in Lebanon. Deployed for the first time in a U.N. mission, the tank has thermal sighting, night vision and automatic loading system for on-the-move firing. It is smaller, lighter and more compact than the U.S. M1 Abrams.

The Leclerc will have two roles _ to protect personnel, and to deter would-be aggressors, said French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.

``When a force is impressive, I think that anyone who intends to attack them or to prevent them from fulfilling their mission, knows that they are taking great risks,'' she said in an interview with AP Television News in Paris.

A second cargo ship is expected to arrive Wednesday.

On Monday, 202 French troops arrived to join another 200 French troops at a makeshift base in Beirut. More are expected to arrive later in the week.

France, which currently leads the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon known as UNIFIL, is expected to increase its contribution to 2,000 soldiers as part of a force of 15,000 that will help the Lebanese army establish authority along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Fighting between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas ended after 34 days on Aug. 14 under the cease-fire.

Alliot-Marie said the rules of UNIFIL's precise rules of engagement were still not worked out _ and France wants a tough mandate.

``People must therefore know that if our soldiers are attacked, they will have the means to fight back. I think the dissuasive impact of this is strong,'' she said.