Italian peacekeeping troops return to Lebanon
Rome — ''This time the risks are enormous.''
This is how Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Spadolini reportedly described his government's decision to dispatch 1,000 troops to Lebanon. They are part of the multinational force being sent to restore order and prevent any further massacres of Palestinian refugees such as occurred last week.
The government formally announced its decision Sept. 21, nine days after its 530-member force ended its 18-day disengagement mission in Lebanon and returned home. Until the consent of the Israeli government was received in Rome, the government had been investigating the possibility of sending the troops through Damascus.
Now that permission from the Israelis, who control the Beirut airport, has been received, the 800 combat-ready troops and 200 backup forces will be airlifted directly into Beirut.
The 1,000 Italian paratroopers, amphibious-landing Marines, and Italian Army Bersaglieri troopers will leave as soon as the Parliament approves the government's decision. The approval is expected before Friday.
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat first urged the Italians to return their disengagement forces last Wednesday. Arafat strenuously argued that Italy had an obligation to uphold when it guaranteed with its troops the terms of the peace accord that led to the PLO withdrawal from Lebanon.
Arafat's request, like his visit to Rome, met with a divided government response. Foreign Minister Emilio Colombo told the PLO leader he would ''examine the question with the other interested parties,'' according to Arafat.
The news of the massacres in Lebanon that broke Saturday shocked and outraged Italian officials. It sparked an editorial attributed to pro-Israeli Prime Minister Spadolini in which he harshly condemned the Israeli government.
''The political error and moral horror are so great that it has cost Israel the support of the democratic conscience of the whole world,'' read the editorial in La Voce Republicana, the news organ belonging to Spadolini's Republican Party.
The reason the number of Italian troops being sent in is double the contingent sent in August is that the task is much more difficult, say Defense Ministry spokesmen.
''The territory they will be expected to guard is much larger, so more troops are needed. And protecting the civilian population is an added duty, which now has added importance,'' said an official spokesman.