France Suspends Missile Agreement with Lebanon, Mulling Decreasing UNIFIL Troops
An agreement signed between the government of French Premier Francois Fillon and that that of former PM Saad Hariri to provide the Lebanese army with missiles has been temporarily suspended, revealed French sources to the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat on Thursday.
They said that the French government suspended it in order to determine a clear position from Prime Minister Najib Miqati’s cabinet, which Paris believes was formed at Syria and Hizbullah’s bidding.
The sources added however that this does not mean that Miqati would be snubbed should he visit France.
The daily also reported that Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji, who is in Paris, held talks with French Army Chief of Staff Admiral Edouard Guillaud.
Meanwhile, other sources told the daily that French officials are beginning to question the purpose of maintaining France’s participation in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
The Defense Ministry and high-ranking military officials said that France cannot take part in the international troops for an open-ended period.
Maintaining the 1500 soldiers cannot persist without reconsidering their mission, said the sources.
Defense Minister Gerard Longuet advocates their withdrawal from Lebanon, while Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has stressed their need to stay, they revealed.
They added that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was “very upset” after the death of a French soldier in July 2010 in an incident that France blamed Hizbullah for.
The sources added however that none of the officials are seriously considering withdrawing all the troops, simply decreasing their number.
Italy had also mulled the possibility of decreasing the number of its troops in UNFIL in light of a recent attack against an Italian unit a few months ago in al-Rmeileh, reported al-Hayat.
France said that the Lebanese army will face “real logistical problems” if it sough to deploy in the South without UNIFIL seeing as it does not have any barracks in the area, said the daily.