BEIRUT, Lebanon – Turkish soldiers and civilians arrived in Beirut on Friday to join the U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, making Turkey the first Muslim country to contribute ground troops to the mission.
Two military ships docked in Beirut's harbor at 9 a.m. carrying, Turkish officials said, some 95 soldiers and civilian engineers, as well as 46 trucks, four armored personnel carriers and several bulldozers and other machinery.
More soldiers were scheduled to arrive later in the day, bringing the number of Turkish soldiers and civilian engineers in Lebanon to 261. The troops were expected to deploy near the southern port city of Tyre to help rebuild bridges and roads damaged in the summer's 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel.
The conflict ended Aug. 14 after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire resolution that calls for an expanded international peacekeeping force to create a weapons-free zone in the south.
A Turkish government spokesman said earlier this month that the total number of Turkish personnel in Lebanon would ultimately reach 681, including sailors and engineers. A vanguard of seven Turkish military officers arrived in Beirut earlier this week, and a Turkish frigate is already helping patrol Lebanese waters.
Turkey is NATO's only predominantly Muslim member, and the country has close ties to both Israel and Arab states. Its contribution to the peacekeeping force was met with opposition in the Turkish parliament, where some lawmakers feared Turkish troops would be drawn into fighting against fellow Muslims to protect Israel.
Armenians in Lebanon also protested Turkish participation in the peacekeeping force, known as UNIFIL, because they blame Turkey's Ottoman rulers for the mass killing of Armenians in the early 20th century.
Many of Lebanon's Armenian residents fled Turkey.
Turkish peacekeeping troops have served in Bosnia and Kosovo and have led operations in Somalia and Afghanistan.