An advance contingent of some 1,000 Italian soldiers has left for Lebanon to take part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission which the government said will be among the most difficult since the end of the Second World War. The flagship of the Italian fleet and four other Navy ships arrived in Lebanon last week after a farewell ceremony off the southern port of Brindisi also attended by Premier Ro-mano Prodi. This mission has helped create a moment of profound unity in the country, said the premier, stressing that all political parties, without distinction, the majority as well as the opposition supported Italian participation in the multinational force.The Ita-lian contingent has been deployed to cover an area measuring 15 by 20 kilometres between the Litani river on the north and the we-stern coasts. The peacekeeping force will enter southern Lebanon under UN Resolution 1701, which requires the militant group He-zbollah and Israel to end their military operations and obliges Israel to withdraw its troops as soon as the UN troops arrive. UN Secre-tary-General Kofi Annan recently told a meeting of European Union foreign ministers, called to decide on European participation, that France will lead the multinational force until February 2007, after which command will pass to Italy. Italy has offered to deploy up to 3,000 soldiers, while France has promised to bring the number of its troops up to 2,000. The Italian government has earmarked 186.8 million euros for the mission until the end of the year, with 30 million euros allotted to humanitarian aid and reconstruction efforts.