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France commits 2,000 to Lebanon

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PARIS, France (CNN) -- French President Jacques Chirac has announced he will commit a total of 2,000 French troops to the United Nations' international force that is to help Lebanon's army secure that country's borders.

Previously, France had promised only 200 troops for the U.N. deployment, which is part of a cease-fire deal that ended hostilities between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon on August 14.

Chirac said he hoped other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council also would commit troops, and called on the international community as a whole to participate in the operation.

In a statement issued from the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, U.S. President George W. Bush said he was pleased with Chirac's decision.

"This is an important step towards finalizing preparations to deploy the United Nations Interim Force of Lebanon," he said.

"I applaud the decision of France, as well as the significant pledges from Italy and our other important allies. I encourage other nations to make contributions as well."

The 15,000 new troops will augment a small U.N. force already on the ground and Lebanese troops that are already being sent into southern Lebanon, a longtime Hezbollah stronghold.

Italy announced on Tuesday that it was willing to lead the contingent and could contribute as many as 3,000 troops.

But Chirac said Thursday that France would be ready to continue its command of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) if the United Nations wished it to do so.

Currently, French Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini is in command of UNIFIL.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi's office said both the Lebanese and Israeli governments contacted Rome about taking a leadership role in the U.N. force.

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