NAQOURA, Lebanon, Aug 19 (AP): French soldiers landed in Lebanon on Saturday, the first reinforcements for an expanded UN peacekeeping force tasked with keeping the truce in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict About 50 French troops - military engineers - were to prepare for the arrival of 200 more soldiers expected next week, said Cmdr. Bertrand Bonneau, a spokesman for the French contingent.
"Today this is the first step," he said. "France is the first country to deploy additional troops in the region."
A UN cease-fire resolution authorized up to 15,000 UN peacekeepers to help 15,000 Lebanese troops extend their authority into south Lebanon, which has been controlled by Hezbollah, as Israel withdraws its soldiers.
The aim is to create a buffer zone free of Hezbollah fighters between the Litani River and the UN-drawn border, about 20 miles to the south. The U.N. wants 3,500 troops on the ground by Aug. 28.
On Friday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to UN member states to provide peacekeepers, assuring them the U.N. force would not be tasked with fighting Israel, Lebanon, or Hezbollah militants.
A key concern of many countries is whether the UN force will be called on to disarm Hezbollah fighters, as called for in a September 2004 UN resolution.
Italy announced Friday it would contribute troops, though it gave no numbers, and Finland pledged 250 troops. But UN Deputy-Secretary Mark Malloch Brown stressed that more European nations are needed to balance the commitments from Muslim countries so that both Israel and Lebanon will view the troops as legitimate.
France already has 200 troops among the 2,000-member UN force that has been in south Lebanon since 1978.
AP adds: Israeli soldiers arrested the Palestinian deputy prime minister Saturday, the highest-ranking Hamas official rounded up in a seven-week-old crackdown against the ruling party.
Troops burst into the home of Nasser Shaer around 4:30 a.m. and took him away, said the deputy prime minister's wife, Huda.
She said her husband had been in hiding since the crackdown began in late June after Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip infiltrated southern
Israel and captured a soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit. She said he had rarely been home during that period.
The army said Shaer was arrested in Ramallah overnight for his involvement and activity in the Islamic militant Hamas.
With Shaer, Israel has now arrested four members of the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Cabinet and 28 Hamas lawmakers. Four other ministers have been detained and released.
Despite the arrests and a military offensive in Gaza, Shalit remains in captivity.
Officials from both Hamas and the rival
Fatah Party have criticized Israel's crackdown.
"They wont be satisfied with any government headed by Hamas or headed by Fatah," said Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the Hamas government. "So I think they want to undermine the political regime, the Palestinian political regime."