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Israel wary of makeup of force

JERUSALEM -- Israel objected yesterday to including countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state in the nascent peacekeeping force for Lebanon, even as a UN envoy said that the Lebanese Army had fielded only 3,000 troops, about one-fifth of the force it plans to enforce the cease-fire in the south.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert raised his opposition to the participation of such countries at a Cabinet meeting, a government official confirmed. The list would include the Muslim countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh, which have pledged troops to the international force that is supposed to work with the Lebanese Army to enforce the truce put in place after the five-week conflict.

``Israel has raised our concerns about having participants in the force that we cannot talk to," a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, said yesterday evening.

Israeli officials acknowledged the country does not have veto power over the composition of the force. But its objections will complicate the UN effort to gather 15,000 peacekeeping soldiers from other countries to work with an equivalent force from the Lebanese army to separate Hezbollah and Israeli combatants.

Olmert, meanwhile, has called for Italy to lead the UN peacekeeping force, his office said in a statement yesterday. The call was made in a telephone conversation between Olmert and Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy.

Material from Reuters was included in this report.

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