LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 13,31-33.34-35. When Judas had left them, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. (If God is glorified in him,) God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, 'Where I go you cannot come,' so now I say it to you. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for May 7/07
Sfeir brings concerns about his country’s future to the Vatican.AsiaNews.it
Hizbullah: Siniora government more hostile than Israel.Ynetnews
Contacts with Syria, Iran indicate progress.Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Canadian traveller missing in Syria.The Daily News
International Measures Underway to Resolve Shabaa Farms Dispute. Naharnet
Hezbollah ‘ready’ for new attack.Gulf Times
Syria says US stuck in Iraq 'impasse'.PRESS TV
Lebanon PM slams Speaker for ‘unnecessary remarks.Ya Libnan
Lahoud: Hezbollah not disarming.PRESS TV
Italy's speaker meets Lebanon’s Berri & reminds him of his role.Ya Libnan
Aoun relentless in pursuit of
By Sami Y Haddad,
Ya Libnan Volunteer
Saturday, 5 May, 2007 @ 6:55 PM
Beirut - Michel Aoun's illusion of the presidency continued yesterday when the former General claimed to be the only suitable Christian candidate.
The most shocking part about his announcement is that he sounded serious. In an interview with Al Aarabiya satellite TV network late Friday Aoun said, ”It will be a shock to all Christians … If 70% of the Christians cannot bring a president, then this is a problem."Aoun did not reveal how he arrived at the 70% popularity amongst the Christians. Aoun insisted that it will be impossible to have any other candidate, claiming ”it will be politically impolite if I agree on someone else … I am the candidate.”Aoun is the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of Lebanon. Everyone knows that Aoun is desperate to become the next president. This is why he joined Hezbollah and the pro-Syrian alliance. Political analyst Joseph Khoury told Ya Libnan, "the more I hear Aoun talk the more I am convinced that this man is sick."
"He must be dreaming to think that 70% of the Christians support him after what he did in destroying Lebanon along with his partners in crime Hezbollah," Christian leader Dory Chamoun said about Aoun. Khoury continued, ”it is well known that Aoun is a sick man.” According to reliable sources “he has been diagnosed with bipolar disease for many years, and continues to be treated for it on a regular basis. "This explains his erratic behavior and his sudden u-turns and outbursts," the analyst continued. "Can you imagine such a man to be Lebanon’s next president? Who knows what day Aoun will be Dr Jekyll and when he will switch to Mr Hyde," Khoury pondered. Aoun continues to dream that 70% of the Christian community supports him. He forgot that since he joined Hezbollah his popularity dived badly .
It seems that by joining the Syrian alliance Aoun is beginning to act like the Syrian regime. He is convinced that only one Christian in Lebanon is qualified to be the president and this person is General Aoun. Just like when the Syrians changed the constitution to allow Bashar el Assad to inherit the presidency from his father, as if he was inheriting a Bank account. Aoun has even been pushing direct elections which is totally unconstitutional in Lebanon. Again here Aoun is acting like the Syrians when they forced the parliament to change the constitution to allow for the extension of the term of the unpopular president Emile Lahoud.
It is about time Aoun should wake up and learn that there are many qualified candidates in Lebanon to be the next president and he should not count himself amongst them.
International Measures Underway to Resolve Shabaa Farms
Measures were reportedly underway on Sunday to settle the issue of the disputed Israeli-occupied Shabaa Farms area which would open the way toward deciding on the fate of Hizbullah weapons. The front page of the daily An Nahar said there is "international" concern toward solving the issue of the Shabaa Farms which lies at the convergence of the Lebanese-Syrian-Israeli borders. Israel captured the area from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.
"Field as well as political preparations are underway in this direction" to meet Lebanon's demand, An Nahar said. Citing circles following up on the issue, An Nahar said that resolving the Shabaa Farms' dispute would leave "the door wide open toward finalizing the fate of Hizbullah arms." Resolution 1701, which led to the August 14 truce that ended a month of warfare between Israel and Hizbullah, calls for the disarmament of all groups in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, resigned Hizbullah cabinet minister Mohammed Fneish contradicted Hizbullah's earlier stance, saying the Shiite group "disagreed" on a seven-point plan adopted by Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government to end Israel's summer war on Lebanon. "The resigned ministers did not agree on the cabinet's seven-point plan … and there was no consensus in the cabinet" on the issue, Fneish said in remarks published Sunday by Al Mustaqbal newspaper.
"We have agreed to consider these points in cabinet, discuss content in detail and mechanisms required for implementation," Fneish said.
He stressed, however, that "we did not agree on these points, particularly on the two points regarding the role and future of the resistance," he added.
Hizbullah had assented to the seven-point comprehensive cease-fire plan put forward by Saniora soon after Israel's summer offensive began.
Saniora said last month that Lebanon wants to place Shabaa Farms under U.N. jurisdiction since Syria has refused to cooperate on the issue.
The controversy over Shabaa Farms arose following the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon on May 25, 2000. In June 2000, the U.N. affirmed that Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon, in accordance with Resolution 425 and U.N. cartographers determined that Shabaa was part of Syria.
Hizbullah cites the ongoing occupation of Shabaa Farms as the basis for its continued attacks on Israel. In June 2006, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan sent a letter to Saniora saying that in order to transfer the sovereignty of Shabaa Farms to Lebanon there should be a border delineation agreement between Lebanon and Syria. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad has refused to do so until Israeli troops withdraw. Beirut, 06 May 07, 07:36
Netanyahu, is principal beneficiary from Olmert’s failure in Lebanon
Sunday, 6 May, 2007
Jerusalem- The former Israeli prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu has emerged as the frontrunner to succeed Ehud Olmert, the prime minister who has been fiercely criticized for his management of the war in Lebanon.
Public support for Olmert, 61, has disintegrated. The prime minister is clinging to power after a week in which his conduct of the war last summer was condemned by the government-appointed Winograd commission and his cabinet was riven by dissent. Yesterday Amir Peretz, the defence minister, announced his intention to step down at the end of this month.
According to weekend opinion polls, Olmert’s approval rating is barely above zero. More than 60% of Israelis want him to resign. The American-educated Netanyahu, 57, enjoys three times the popularity of any potential rival for the post.
In a powerful speech to Israel’s parliament last week, Netanyahu, who was prime minister from 1996 until he lost a general election in 1999, declared: “The state of Israel needs better leadership.” If he returns to office he will be expected to adopt an aggressive approach to his Middle Eastern neighbours and to display his confidence in Israel’s use of military force and political muscle.
“Peace can never be achieved by unilateral steps,” he said, referring to Olmert’s willingness to withdraw from much of the West Bank.
“The time for a reassessment of our policy has come. We should look at the situation without any illusion and restore to the state of Israel its might, deterrent power and above all our self-respect,” he argued, while Olmert sat watching, stony-faced.
Netanyahu is the principal beneficiary of a shift to the right in Israeli politics and society. Increasingly, middle-class voters have placed a strong emphasis on security and rejected the collectivist views that inspired an older generation of Jewish settlers.
“We’re fed up with the Arabs and the chances of reaching peace with them,” said one Tel Aviv lawyer. “We gave them too many chances. They don’t want us here, period. That’s why I think Netanyahu and his political approach is the right one.”
Indeed many Israelis now believe that a security wall to separate them from the Palestinians is the best solution, rather than peace negotiations which they believe will lead nowhere.
For them, Netanyahu is the tough-talking alternative to the hesitant Olmert, who they blame for failing to win the war with Hezbollah.
Netanyahu served for four years as an officer in Israel’s equivalent of the SAS, while Olmert did his national service as a war correspondent. This gives the hawkish Netanyahu an advantage over Olmert, who is seen as weak and vacillating on military matters.
Netanyahu’s opponents warn against a return to high office. “He can’t work under pressure and is too panicky by nature to be a good prime minister,” said a rival.
Haim Israeli, a long-serving but now retired civil servant in the Ministry of Defence, said: “He’s a dangerous man.”
Last week Olmert outmanoeuvred Tzipi Livni, his foreign minister, who called on him to resign, persuading all but two of his Kadima MPs to support him. But it seemed a Pyrrhic victory. A huge demonstration attended by people from across the political spectrum suggested that his days in power are numbered.
If Olmert goes by the summer, when the full findings of the Winograd inquiry will be published, his successor will face two immediate challenges: the Iranian nuclear threat and the Palestinian issue.
A close friend of Netanyahu said: “He won’t wait too long to attack Iran.” As for the Palestinians, it seems unlikely that he would make territorial compromises with them.
“A shaky hand is holding David’s sword these days,” Netanyahu told Olmert last week. “The restoration of our might is a matter of life or death.”
Sources: Times on line
Illegal Palestinians in Lebanon desperate for legal identity
Sunday, 6 May, 2007
Beirut - Three generations of the Hamdallah family have lived in Lebanon. And for three generations not a single member of the family has been allowed to graduate from school, legally marry, or hold a job,
or even set foot outside of the rundown camps that have been home to generations of Palestinians.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency estimates that more than 400,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon — refugees, their children and their children’s children — all denied many basic rights in their adopted homeland on the Mediterranean.
But within that diaspora at least 3,000 people, including the Hamdallah family, are invisible to the legal system, aid groups here say. When their families arrived in Lebanon, they failed to get refugee status, and without it they cannot get identification cards, the currency of all life transactions in this region. Marriage, travel, work — all are impossible without a national identification document.
“They are not persons in front of the law,” said Stéphane Jacquemet, regional representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon. “They live in camps, don’t have access to services, schools, hospitals, and strictly speaking a person with no documents can be arrested. They absolutely have no future, and they are giving their no future to their children.”
Palestinian refugees have been denied citizenship in Lebanon for years, and they are prohibited from practicing more than 70 professions. The Lebanese government has insisted that the plight of the refugees should not be settled at the expense of host nations, and it has made clear that it eventually wants the Palestinians to go back to Israel after a settlement with that government.
At the heart of that policy lies the fear that the refugees could upset Lebanon’s already complicated and tenuous power-sharing system, based on ethnic and sectarian affiliation. Because most Palestinians are Sunni Muslims, nationalizing them would throw the power balance to Sunnis.
So, with no real hope of becoming Lebanese citizens, Palestinians remain squeezed in dark, small camps where sewage water often runs in claustrophobic alleys, the only playground of young refugees. Outside most of these camps, the Lebanese Army maintains a heavy presence.
But while most Palestinians are denied citizenship, a vast majority have identification papers that allow them to participate in society.
“Generally speaking, everyone must have and is entitled to a legal identification paper,” said Fateh Azzam, a regional representative of the International Council on Human Rights here. “In this part of the world you can’t do anything without it.”
That is a reality that the Hamdallah family has struggled with for generations.
Born in Jerusalem, the oldest member of the family, Moetaz Hamdallah, 65, came to Lebanon in 1970 from Jordan after “Black September,” when King Hussein expelled Palestinian militants. Mr. Hamdallah was one of those militants. He arrived in Lebanon when the Palestine Liberation Organization — then ensconced in southern Lebanon — was at the height of its power, and so he never thought about legalizing his status.
“The revolution was strong, I was strong,” Mr. Hamdallah said in an interview. “I never thought about identification papers or what would happen to me and to my children without them.”
But when the P.L.O. was driven out of Lebanon in 1982, “I started pitying myself,” he said as he sat on a plastic chair outside his concrete-block house in the Rashidieh refugee camp in southern Lebanon. Inside, flies buzzed under a zinc roof and unpainted walls.
Mr. Hamdallah did not flee when Israel was formed over the former Palestine in 1948, and so he and his family did not meet the United Nations definition of Palestinian refugees. In Lebanon, the P.L.O. was blamed for igniting civil war, and so Mr. Hamdallah, like others with his background, were not welcomed.
Their situation came to light in 2001 when a young refugee without proper identification was fatally shot in the back by Lebanese soldiers after he ran from a security checkpoint monitoring his refugee camp. When investigating why he ran back toward the camp, the army found out that he had a forged ID card and feared arrest.
“They have melted into the background for too long,” said Richard J. Cook, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East. “This is a problem not going to go away on its own; now is the time to solve it.”
But obstacles complicate the more direct possible solutions, human rights advocates say. For example, Jordan and Egypt have refused to renew the passports of the Palestinians who used to live there before their move to Lebanon. Refugees cannot transfer their files with the United Nations to Lebanon from their previous resident countries unless they have the approval of those countries and Lebanon.
One of the solutions would be for the Lebanese government to provide Palestinians with some sort of documents that recognize them as a special category of refugees entitled to remain in the country until the issue of the so-called right to return to Israel is settled. But the government said that a lack of a thorough and well-documented survey about them prevents that for now.
“They are illegal in the country, so they are not going to raise their hands up and say, ‘We are illegal, can you help us?’ ” Mr. Cook said.
The Danish Refugee Council, a nongovernmental organization funded by the European Union Commission Humanitarian Aid Department, put the number of undocumented Palestinians in Lebanon at 3,000, while other nongovernmental organizations put it at as high as 5,000.
Some human rights advocates insist that the real problem is not a lack of clear statistics, but the government’s objection to any measure that would raise the official number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
That charge is denied by Khalil Makkawi, a former Lebanese ambassador to the United Nations who now leads the committee negotiating with the Palestinians on how to regulate their presence here.
“It has no foundation whatsoever,” Mr. Makkawi said. “It is in our interest to solve the problem and identify them as Palestinians.”
When the government gets clear figures from the P.L.O. office here, it can start talks with Jordan and Egypt to renew refugees’ old identification papers and to transfer the files of those registered with the United Nations elsewhere to Lebanon, he said. As for those who lack papers and have never been registered anywhere, the government will seek a special solution, he said.
When Mr. Hamdallah’s oldest son, Mohannad, 34, was a child, he asked his father why he did not have an identification paper like his fellow classmates. He was told that he would get papers when they returned home — meaning Jerusalem, he said.
Recently, when Mohannad Hamdallah was asked how he would respond if his 7-year old daughter, the oldest of a third generation of refugees in his family without identification, someday asks him why she cannot graduate from school, he thought for a moment before answering.
“I would tell her they were burned during the war,” he said.
Desperate for some form of legal identity, he has throughout his life collected hundreds of papers with his name, place and year of birth written on them from local mayors, hospitals and schools where he studied but never graduated.
He keeps the papers, their edges worn from use, in a briefcase, and the briefcase in a safe. “I keep every piece of paper because I am like the drowning man who clutches at a straw,” he said. Still, at one military checkpoint, they evoked only mockery, then detention, he said.
He looks for work as a freelance accountant, but can only keep a job until his employer asks for legal identification.
“When they do, I disappear,” he said. “I can’t tell them I don’t have an ID. They won’t understand.”
Sources: NY Times
Lebanon’s president says Hezbollah should not disarm
Sunday, 6 May, 2007
Beirut- During an interview with a Cuban TV Show on the seventh anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, stated that the Lebanon-based Hezbollah party should not disarm until peace is achieved between Israel and Lebanon.
Lahoud stated that the weapons of the party are the main source of power for Lebanon, and that Lebanon has the right to remain powerful until a comprehensive and just peace is reached between the two countries.
Referring to the 2006 summer war between Hezbollah and Israel, and the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Lahoud said that the Lebanese victory in 2000 and its victory in the 2006 war with Israel will be recorded in history books since it is a victory of a small nation which faced Israel and its supporters, especially the US weapons sent to Israel.
He also said that Israel admits that it lost the war with Lebanon and that its Winograd commission, assigned by the Israel government to probe the war, admitted that Israel and its leaders are accountable for this loss.
Lahoud added that this victory was achieved as a result of the Lebanese unity, the unity of those who fought for their rights.
He did not rule out a further Israeli escalation against Lebanon or Syria, adding that Israel does not want peace.
Syria’s man in Lebanon
The pro-Syrian president has sided with Hezbollah during its protest to force out the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. His ideas and opinions are only shared by the pro-Syrian opposition. His credibility is at an all time low.
Supporters of the government, the parliament majority want Hezbollah disarmed. They blame Hezbollah for Lebanon's problems, especially the last summer war which left Lebanon in ruins and the protests that followed which devastated the economy.
Lahoud is the most unpopular president in Lebanon’s history , primarily because he is considered Bashar el Assad’s man in Lebanon. Syria's president pressured the Lebanese parliament in October 2004 to change the constitution to allow for the illegal extension of Lahoud’s presidency till November 2007.
Following the assassination of Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri in 2005 the Lebanese along with International pressure forced Syria out of Lebanon after nearly 3 decades of military presence. Syria was blamed for Hariri's assassination but Syria denied
Lebanon’s Hezbollah rearmed but not seeking new Israel war
Sunday, 6 May, 2007
Beirut - Hezbollah guerrillas, the bane of successive Israeli governments, have rearmed since last year's war in Lebanon but have little interest in provoking a new one, analysts say.
Israel has complained about Hezbollah's re-supply effort, but it too seems unlikely to plunge into any fresh conflict until it has digested the lessons of the previous one. Israel is also preoccupied with the political firestorm around Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, rebuked by an inquiry for his handling of the war. Lebanese security and political sources said Hezbollah had amply replenished its rocket arsenal and had received improved anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles from Iran via Syria since a United Nations-backed truce halted hostilities in August.
The Beirut government says it has no proof of arms transfers from Syria. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed the issue last month with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who opposes any move to put U.N. troops on the Syria-Lebanon border.
"What the group took six years to achieve (after Israeli troops left Lebanon in 2000), it has achieved in six months," one political source said of Hezbollah's military buildup.
A security source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said Hezbollah was in better shape than before the war that erupted after it seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12. The Shi'ite guerrillas have had no visible presence in the border region since Lebanese troops and U.N. peacekeepers took over the area south of the Litani river. But Hezbollah can call up hundreds of villagers with military training if need be.
Hezbollah has also established a new defence line, with trenches, bunkers and rocket bases just north of the Litani and in the southern part of the Bekaa Valley to the east, the sources said.
They said the group has sent hundreds of fighters, both new recruits and veterans, for training in Iran -- more than making up for its war casualties, including 270 or so dead.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has openly stated that military preparations are under way, couching them as precautions rather than as a prelude to attack.
This week he jubilantly noted the Israeli inquiry's flaying of Olmert for his conduct of the war, in which Israel failed to destroy Hezbollah or stop it firing rockets across the border.
"Today the climate in the whole of the Zionist entity is that this war was a failure," Nasrallah said on Wednesday.
Many Israelis agree, with two thirds telling pollsters Olmert should resign. Olmert and Defence Minister Amir Peretz argue that Israel made some gains in the war because U.N. peacekeepers had replaced Hezbollah fighters on the border.
A U.N. Security Council resolution in 2004 demanded the disarming of all militias in Lebanon. Hezbollah, the only faction to keep its weapons after the 1975-90 civil war, says it is an anti-Israel resistance movement, not a militia.
Analysts in Lebanon and Israel said Hezbollah was in no mood to go into battle again -- unless any U.S. or Israeli assault on Iran's nuclear installations set off a regional conflict.
"Hezbollah are thumping their chests now because they are trying to get some credit for the mess in Israel," said Timur Goksel, a former spokesman for U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon.
He said their posture was not aggressive. "They get credit in the Arab world and their own community for challenging Israel in the public domain, but I don't think they'll go beyond that."
Hezbollah must consider its own people -- Shi'ite civilians who took the brunt of Israeli bombing and now want to rebuild.
A political party as well as an armed group, Hezbollah has also been locked for months in a domestic stalemate that pits the Western-backed government against factions close to Syria.
"Hezbollah is not looking for a new war," retired Israeli intelligence analyst Matti Steinberg said. "It is aiming to reshape the character of the Lebanese state. It is not looking southward to the border, but inward to Beirut."
While Hezbollah devotes part of its energies to the Lebanese power struggle, its alliances with Iran and Syria link it to broader conflicts that could lead to a military flare-up.
"What troubles me is that perhaps the Americans will attack Iran," Aharon Zeevi-Farkah, a former chief of Israel's military intelligence, told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronot. "That would thrust us into a war and the home front is not ready."
Some Israeli analysts say another conflict is inevitable.
"Israel cannot live with a situation in which Hezbollah is regrouping and rearming," Efraim Halevy, former chief of the Mossad spy agency, told Reuters. "Hezbollah, for its part, is predicated on the idea of an ultimate confrontation."
Picture : Hezbollah tents in downtown . Both Israel and Hezbollah are egaged in domestic problems. Israeli leaders are under pressure to resign and Hezbollah pressuring Lebanon's government to resign. The tents are part of Hezbollah sit- in protest against the government .
Source: Reuters, Ya Libnan
Iran and U.S. failed to find harmony in Sharm el- Sheikh
Sunday, 6 May, 2007
Beirut - Iran’s foreign minister boycotted a dinner of diplomats where he would have sat opposite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, apparently because the female violinist entertaining the gathering was showing too much skin.
“I don’t know which woman he was afraid of, the woman in the red dress or the secretary of state,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met earlier at a lunch Thursday but exchanged only pleasantries. Neither appeared ready to make the first move for a real meeting. “You can ask him why he didn’t make an effort,” Rice told reporters yesterday. “I’m not given to chasing anyone.”
According to Iraq’s foreign minister, Iranian and American ambassadors did meet yesterday for more serious talks on the sidelines of the conference to stabilize Iraq, the second such encounter since March 10.
The United States and Iran have been estranged since the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. They are now at odds over Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and U.S. claims that Iran is supporting terrorism in Iraq and Lebanon. The United States is holding five Iranian agents it accuses of aiding terrorists in Iraq.
Iran denies the accusations and yesterday, Mottaki assailed the United States for the terrorism and violence he said resulted from its “occupation” of Iraq, saying the Americans “should not finger point or put the blame on others.”
Iran is the founder of Hezbollah in Lebanon and continues to fund and train this organization.
Picture: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ( R) and Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki in a composed portrait.
Sources: AP, Ya Libnan
Italy's speaker meets Lebanon’s Berri & reminds him of his role
Sunday, 6 May, 2007
Beirut - Italian parliament speaker Fausto Bertinotti met his Lebanese counterpart, Nabih Berri, on the first day of a trip to Lebanon that will also include a visit to Italian peacekeepers in the south.
Bertinotti, who was beginning a tour that will also take him to Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories, said he had come to Lebanon to "encourage the different Lebanese factions to talk to each other."
He said he had "underlined to Mr Berri the importance of the role that parliament can play toward finding a solution to the current crisis," which pits Berri and other pro-Syrian elements against an anti-Damascus majority in the legislature.
The two sides are at odds over the creation of a UN-led tribunal that would try suspects in the assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri, a crime widely blamed on Syria but denied by Damascus.
Bertinotti said he chose Lebanon as the first stop "because of the deep friendship linking Lebanon and Italy, and the presence of Italian troops on its soil" in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
He also met Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, PSP leader Walid Jumblatt and Hezbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan.
On Sunday, he is to visit the Italian UNIFIL contingent in south Lebanon.
In February, Italian General Claudio Graziano took command of the 12,000-strong force from General Alain Pellegrini of France.
Italy's contingent of 2,500 men is the largest in the peacekeeping force comprising personnel from 29 countries.
UNIFIL, established in 1978, was considerably reinforced under Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended last summer's 34-day war between Israel and Shiite Hezbollah militants.
Italy is also Lebanon's main trading partner in terms of exports.
Peretz delays his resignation over Lebanon war failure
Sunday, 6 May, 2007
Jerusalem - Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, under pressure to resign over a scathing Lebanon war inquiry, said on Saturday he intends to give up his post only after his Labor Party holds a leadership election on May 28.
Israeli media reports have speculated Peretz might quit within days, a step that could pile more pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down.
"I announced more than a month ago that I intend, immediately after the Labor Party primaries, to carry out far-reaching changes," Peretz said on Israel's Channel 2 television.
"One of (the changes) that I intend to propose is for the defense portfolio to be returned to (Olmert's) Kadima party and that we receive the finance portfolio," Peretz said.
Asked why he didn't heed some 100,000 Israeli protesters who demanded at a rally on Thursday that he and Olmert quit immediately, Peretz said: "I think everyone realizes, that two weeks here or two weeks there really do not matter."
Peretz, a former trade union chief, is widely expected to be ousted as Labour's leader in the internal vote later this month.
Several candidates to replace him have said they intend to pull Labour out of Olmert's governing coalition, a move that could hasten a general election that is not due until 2010.
A government-appointed panel said on Monday that Olmert "made up his mind hastily" to launch the war last July against Hezbollah guerillas, accusing him of "a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence."
The panel also found fault with Peretz, saying he failed to recognize that his military inexperience obliged him to seek expert counsel in pursuing the campaign against Hezbollah.
Olmert has repeatedly said he has no intention of resigning despite the commission's sharp criticism and a call from his own foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, to leave office.
Echoing Olmert, Peretz said in the television interview he wanted to stay on for now to help the government and military fix mistakes highlighted in the inquiry's interim report.