U.N. to Complete UNIFIL Strategy Review in January or February

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A U.N. "strategy" review of its peacekeeping force in Lebanon, which has been hit by several attacks in recent months, is to be completed in coming weeks, a U.N. spokesman said Thursday.

The spokesman denied however that it was linked to the attacks -- the latest of which saw five French peacekeepers wounded and France accusing Syria of involvement.

UNIFIL will get a new Italian commander from January however, while some diplomats have said France is reviewing its troop contribution to the force, which is known as UNIFIL.

"There is a strategic review of UNIFIL underway right now. This has been in place for quite some time and is not linked to the recent attack targeting peacekeepers," U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer told Agence France Presse.

Julian Harston, a veteran British diplomat and U.N. peacekeeping expert is carrying out the review which is focusing on "operational configuration and strategy of the mission."

"He is looking at whether it is structured in the right way and using its resources in the right way to carry out its mandate," Dwyer said.

Harston will complete his work in January or February and the U.N. Security Council will then decide what changes to make to the force which has taken on renewed importance since UNIFIL was boosted after the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah.

It now has about 13,500 troops and civilian staff.

After a roadside bomb wounded five French peacekeepers last week, France accused Syria of involvement. The Damascus government has denied the claims. French troops were also the target of a bomb in July which injured six while six Italian troops were wounded in a bomb attack in May.

Italian ambassador Cesare Ragaglini confirmed to AFP that his country would take over leadership of UNIFIL from next month. "At the request of the United Nations, Italy is available to take over the command of UNIFIL from January," he said.

Brigadier General Paolo Serra will take over from Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas of Spain as force commander, U.N. sources said. Serra has previously served in the international force in Kosovo.

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