Italy will keep the same number of its peacekeepers in South Lebanon, Italian Defense Minister Mario Mauro said Thursday, as he voiced his country’s readiness to provide military assistance if needed.
He visited President Michel Sleiman (photo) and expressed Italy’s appreciation for his efforts to distance Lebanon from the repercussions of the Syrian crisis with the “Baabda Declaration.”
For his part, Sleiman praised the “assistance that Italy has provided to Lebanon at various levels, as well as its continued commitment to Lebanon at international forums by supporting its causes.”
Mauro visited Sleiman as the Head of an Italian delegation, with Italian Ambassador Giuseppe Morabito also present. Discussions during the meetings focused on bilateral ties and developments in the region, particularly in Syria.
They also discussed the growing number of Syrian refugees entering Lebanon and the need to resolve the crisis at the international level.
Speaking after holding talks with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Mauro said his visit was aimed at affirming the friendship between Italy and Lebanon.
He also confirmed that Italy’s UNIFIL contingent will remain in the south. “As for peacekeeping troops, I stressed that the number of Italian soldiers in south Lebanon will not be reduced,” Mauro told reporters after meeting Mikati.
Asked whether an agreement was reached on a definitive plan that would detail Italy’s support to the Army, Mauro said: “There has been no agreement so far. But we began discussing this matter in line of an existing agreement with the Lebanese Army. If there was a need to amend it then this will be discussed with relevant officials.”
Mauro said he also wanted to stress Italy’s support for the Army’s efforts to preserve security in Lebanon. He said independence, stability and democracy were the factors that would safeguard the region.
Mauro also discussed boosting bilateral ties between Lebanon and Italy, particularly at the military level with his Lebanese counterpart, caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn.
Their discussions focused on developments in the country and on UNFIL’s work in South Lebanon.
Army Commander General Jean Kahwagi also met Mauro in Yarzeh. The two discussed the situation in Lebanon and ways of boosting military cooperation between the two countries, particularly in terms of training and logistics. They also discussed the work of the Italian UNIFIL contingent in the south, according to an Army statement.
Source: The Daily Star