TYRE, Lebanon: At a weekly street market in the Bazourieh district of Tyre, vendors stocked with goods eagerly welcomed troops in bright blue hats. Shouting “benvenuti,” “prego” and other Italian welcomes from behind their stalls, they greeted UNIFIL’s Italian peacekeepers.
Dozens of stalls jam the town’s square every Wednesday to sell clothes, jewelry, dried fruits and Lebanese spices. This week, the locals said there was heightened anticipation ahead of the visit by ITALBATT – the Italian contingent deployed within the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
The Italian peacekeepers are stationed in western Lebanon, covering an area of around 102 towns and villages from Litani River all the way to Bint Jbeil.
As well as monitoring the peace in the area, they also conduct numerous tours and programs to interact with the villagers of the south.
Near one stall, two soldiers in their U.N. uniforms emblazoned with the Italian flag looked at a pile of red teddy bears holding hearts for Valentine’s day.
The Italian contingent carries out many projects in the communities of the south, including infrastructure and road improvements. They also provide free health services once a week and support the municipality.
At the market, the foreign troops seem to be well-appreciated by the locals. Both sellers and shoppers welcome them with warm smiles.
In their most recent visit, ITALBATT commander, Col. Cristian Margheriti, along with his Italian troops, met with Bazourieh Mayor Bahij al-Husseini to discuss UNIFIL’s objectives in the area.
Husseini said he was pleased with ITALBATT’s efforts in the region. “The Italian battalion is the lung through which we breathe, as the Italian forces contribute to many developmental and social projects,” he told The Daily Star.
Margheriti affirmed that good relations exist between UNIFIL and the townspeople. “I assure you that we do not feel like strangers here. We have a very friendly relationship with the town people.”
The municipality’s building, flying both Italian and Lebanese flags, stands as an affirmation of the two countries’ friendship.
Margheriti reiterated the importance of Lebanon’s national unity, deeming it necessary for Lebanon’s social, educational and developmental improvement. “Our forces are monitoring the cease-fire line, in line with the Security Council Resolution 1701, and we will continue to support the Lebanese Army and coordinate with it in all our operations,” he said.
When asked whether the Italian peacekeepers on the border fear any act of terrorism targeting them, Margheriti said the good relations they have built with locals would not allow that to happen.
Other than Bazourieh, Margheriti talked about how his unit plans to conduct several development projects provide services in some 19 towns and villages.
However, he said that his unit’s support doesn’t extend to Palestinian and Syrian refugees.
Down on the border between Lebanon and Israel, Margheriti said they help the Lebanese Army monitor the Blue Line. The Italian peacekeepers and Lebanese Army troops regularly train together as well. He said he hopes to maintain the cease-fire so “no shots will be fired.”