updated 8/24/2006 3:53:46 PM ET 2006-08-24T19:53:46

President Jacques Chirac said Thursday that France will send a total of 2,000 soldiers for the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, and a European Union official said it wants to see the troops in place within a week.

In a nationally televised address that also was closely followed throughout Europe, Chirac said France will increase its deployment from an already announced 400 troops, and hopes to retain command of the force. He said the United Nations had provided the guarantees France had sought involving the mandate of the force.

“Two extra battalions will go on to the ground to extend our numbers within UNIFIL,” Chirac said. “Two thousand French soldiers are thus placed under blue helmets in Lebanon,” he added.

France, along with the United States, helped craft a U.N. Security Council cease-fire resolution that allowed for an expansion of the UNIFIL force from the current 2,000 troops to up to 15,000. France’s commitment of troops to establish a buffer zone between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas has been closely watched in other countries.

The United Nations is expected to hold another formal meeting Monday for countries that have expressed interest in contributing troops to Lebanon, a U.N. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because there has been no official announcement.

The United Nations is hoping to nail down concrete numbers at that time so the deployment can begin quickly, the U.N. official said.

Sporadic violence has marked the U.N.-brokered cease-fire in Lebanon that took hold Aug. 14 and ended 34 days of ferocious fighting, but the truce has thus far held.

Foreign ministers meeting Friday
EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet Friday in Brussels to discuss the force. Pressure on the Europeans has grown because Israel has rejected offers of participation from Malaysia, Bangladesh and Indonesia — predominantly Muslim countries that do not recognize the Jewish state.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged the international community to act as quickly as possible to deploy a U.N. force to keep the peace in southern Lebanon.

“The extremists who want to inflame the region are watching us, and this will test the strength and determination of the international community,” Livni said following a meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja indicated the first reinforcements to a U.N. peacekeeping force could be imminent.

“We would like to see the first reinforcements for UNIFIL arrive within a week if possible,” Tuomioja said in Berlin. Finland holds the rotating European Union presidency.

Most EU nations have been wary of making firm commitments until the mandate for the new force is clarified, fearing that their peacekeepers could be dragged into a conflict with the Hezbollah militants or with Israel if the cease-fire collapses.

History has much to do with the hesitancy of European powers to make clear troop commitments.

France lost 71 soldiers during peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Belgium 10 in at the outset of the genocide in Rwanda a dozen years ago. France also lost 58 peacekeepers in the Oct. 23, 1983, Hezbollah attacks in Beirut that also killed 241 Americans.

Worries about shooting guidelines
Many European countries also have expressed qualms over committing troops without strong guidelines on when its soldiers would have the right to shoot and also defend themselves.

During this summer’s fighting, Paris presented itself as the natural leader to push for a cease-fire between Hezbollah militants and Israel — sending its prime minister and foreign minister to Lebanon to survey the devastation and make appeals for peace.

President Bush spoke with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi about the expanded UNIFIL force for Lebanon, thanking Italy for its offer of “substantial forces” to the peacekeeping effort.

The resolution was designed to bolster the peacekeeping force to support some 15,000 Lebanese troops that have started moving into the southern region, which suffered more than a month of fighting between the Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia and Israeli troops.

Aside from France and Italy, other nations considering contributions include Spain, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Greece, and Belgium. Turkey, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand and China also are considering participating in the U.N. mission.

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