BEIRUT: Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti praised Saturday Lebanon’s policy of disassociation regarding events in Syria and affirmed his country’s commitment to the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), saying there was no decision to reduce the number of Italian peacekeepers.
During a joint news conference with Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail, Monti praised the policy adopted by Lebanon regarding the crisis in Syria and said it was important to note the responsible attitude by the country’s political class in safeguarding the country from negative repercussions.
Monti, who arrived at Rafik Hariri International Airport earlier in the day, held several meetings with leading officials, including Mikati and President Michel Sleiman, before heading down to Naqoura, south Lebanon, to visit members of Italy’s contingent in UNIFIL.
At the Grand Serail, Monti affirmed his country’s commitment to U.N. peacekeeping force in the south and said there would be no reduction in the number of Italian troops.
Italy has 1,100 peacekeepers stationed in Lebanon as part of UNIFIL.
He said Italy would continue to support Lebanon to ensure peace in the south and prevent the occurrence of “terrorist attacks” similar to those that hit the French and Italian contingents in 2011.
Three separate road-side bombs targeted French and Italian contingents last year near the southern coastal city of Sidon. A total of 16 peacekeepers were wounded in the attacks.
For his part, Mikati thanked the Italian official for his country’s historic and vital contribution to UNIFIL, praising the role of Italian peacekeepers in the local development and progress in south Lebanon.
“We thank the Italian contingent for its effort to ensure safety and stability, particularly in terms of offering humanitarian and developmental aid to southern residents along with their great efforts in the process of removing mines left behind by the Israeli occupation,” Mikati told reporters.
Mikati, directly addressing Monti, said a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was key to Middle East peace and expressed hope that Italy would play a positive role in this regard.
Following talks with Mikati, Monti met with President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace where the two discussed bi-lateral ties between Lebanon and Italy.
Sleiman expressed his appreciation for Italy’s continuous support to Lebanon, according to a statement from the president’s office.
At Shamaa, UNIFIL’s Sector West in the southern coastal city of Naqoura, Monti took part in a ceremony attended by members of the Italian contingent in the attendance of UNIFIL head Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra and Brig. Gen. Carlo Lamanna, the commander of UNIFIL Sector West.
“Italy is a leading contributor to UNIFIL. Prime Minister Monti’s visit is yet another proof of the continued commitment of Italy and the international community as a whole to UNIFIL’s mission. This is very much appreciated,” Serra said, according to a UNFIL statement.
Serra briefed Monti on UNIFIL’s deployment and tasks and stressed that the peacekeeping force was committed to the implementation of its mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, the statement said.
Monti also met with Italian troops serving in UNIFIL and greeted them on the occasion of the Easter holiday, it added.
UNIFIL has a total of about 12,000 military personnel, including about 1,000 in the Maritime Task Force, from 37 countries.