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Report: Olmert favors German forces



Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would welcome German troops participating in an international force in southern Lebanon, according to a newspaper interview published Friday.

German officials have not ruled out contributing soldiers to a security force, but Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that "we as Germans should approach this region with the greatest caution."

Some have speculated over what would happen if German troops were forced into a position of conflict with Israeli soldiers, or if the weight of the Nazi-era past clouded the Germans' ability to make crucial split-second decisions.

Olmert said he told Merkel that Israel has "absolutely no problem with German soldiers in southern Lebanon."

"Why should German soldiers shoot at Israel? They would be part of the force protecting Israel," Olmert was quoted as saying in the interview with the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"There is at the moment no nation that is behaving in a more friendly way toward Israel than Germany," he added. "If Germany can contribute to the security of the Israeli people, that would be a worthwhile task for your country. I would be very happy if Germany participated."

Berlin has avoided direct criticism of the Jewish state since fighting broke out last month, repeatedly underscoring its right to self-defense, and has called for a cease-fire "as quickly as possible" rather than immediately.

Merkel insists that Germany cannot consider a contribution until a UN mandate is in place. She also has pointed to the fact the German military is already stretched, with troops deployed from the Balkans to Afghanistan.

Still, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung - a member of her conservative Christian Democrats - has suggested that if all sides were to ask for a contribution, then Germany would have to oblige.

Germany has been calling on Syria - a key supporter of the Lebanon-based Hizbullah - to play a constructive part in defusing the crisis.

"If Germany wants to talk to Syria, no one is going to stop Germany doing that," Olmert was quoted as saying. "But I harbor doubts about Syria's intentions."

"If Syria really wanted to take on a positive role, the country would have many possibilities," he added. "It has rejected them all."



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