Occupied Jerusalem/Paris/Beirut : Israel and Lebanon yesterday welcomed an EU pledge to contribute up to 7,000 troops to a beefed-up UN peacekeeping mission capable of enforcing the fragile truce with Hezbollah.
"Israel congratulates European countries on their decision to send these contingents for the international force in Lebanon," foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev. "This decision will greatly contribute to the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701."
Mohammad Chatah, a senior advisor to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, said, "The government is very satisfied with this positive and important decision".
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is due in Beirut tomorrow to discuss the deployment with Leb-anese leaders, also hailed the EU's decision.
"We may have a unique opportunity to transform the cessation of hostilities into a durable ceasefire," he said in Brussels.
Around 10 French ground army units have been placed on alert to depart for Lebanon to join the expanded UN force, the French army command said yesterday. France will command the force until February.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who called Siniora by telephone, promised yesterday to help lift an Israeli blockade on Beirut's airport. A statement by the Lebanese prime minister's office said Rice expressed hope that her efforts would bear fruit in the near future.