BEIRUT, Lebanon – The first batch of some 240 French soldiers arrived at Beirut airport Sunday to help the Lebanese army in rebuilding bridges destroyed or damaged by Israeli airstrikes during the 34-day fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas.
A French military plane landed at Beirut airport carrying some 60 soldiers from the Second Regiment of the Legion of Jenie.
"They are here to help the Lebanese army in constructing about 15 bridges across Lebanon," said Lt. Philip Toroller, an officer of the French military mission based at the French Embassy in Beirut.
Speaking by telephone shortly after the 60 soldiers landed at the airport, he said two other French planes would arrive later Sunday, carrying the remaining members of the 240 soldiers.
"Our job is to work jointly with the Lebanese army in rebuilding bridges. The French troops will be here for about one and a half months at least," he said.
Toroller said the French troops will go first to Damour, a coastal town south of Beirut, where they will begin work before moving to other areas in south Lebanon.
"We received yesterday part of steel bridges that will be installed by French troops, replacing damaged bridges," he said.
Asked if their job also involved rebuilding destroyed bridges in northern and eastern Lebanon, the French officer said, "It's up to the Lebanese army to decide. We are here to help the Lebanese army."
Toroller stressed that the 240 French soldiers are not part of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon known as UNIFIL, nor part of an expanded international force to help the Lebanese army in extending government authority along the Lebanese-Israeli border as called for by a U.N.-brokered cease-fire resolution that ended the Israel-Hezbollah fighting on August 14. France has about 400 troops in the UNIFIL force now and plans to expand that to 2,000.
Two hours later, another French military plane landed at Beirut airport carrying 60 more French soldiers.
On Saturday, two French ships arrived at Beirut port carrying military equipment, trucks and jeeps to French troops who will be part of an expanded international peacekeeping force.
The equipment will be used by French military engineers to open damaged roads, detonate unexploded ordnance and check border areas where members of the international peacekeeping force could set up new positions, a U.N. officer at the UNIFIL headquarters in the Lebanese border town of Naqoura told The Associated Press Sunday.