Israel urges UN to hurry its mission

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday urged the international community to act as quickly as possible to deploy a U.N. force to keep the peace in southern Lebanon, AP reports.

Livni told Sky TV 24 that the situation on the ground is "explosive."

"The international community must act as quickly as possible," Livni said. "Israel from the beginning knew help was needed to help the Lebanese Army. ... Now the ball is in the European court."

The Israeli foreign minister was in Italy to meet Italian counterpart Massimo D'Alema and Premier Romano Prodi as Italy appears on the verge of taking on a major role in an expanded U.N. peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon.

Livni was meeting with D'Alema in Rome and was later to travel to the Tuscan town of Grosseto to meet with Prodi, who is vacationing at the nearby seaside resort of Castiglione della Pescaia.

The talks are expected to focus on the shaping of the peacekeeping mission, as most EU nations remain wary of making firm commitments until the mandate for the new force is clarified, fearing that their troops could be dragged into a conflict with the Hezbollah militants based in south Lebanon or with Israel if the current cease-fire between them collapses.

D'Alema said earlier this week that Hezbollah must lay down its arms but that Israel must respect the cease-fire if Italy is to send troops to Lebanon.

Italy has said it would be willing to lead the peace mission and has so far pledged the largest contingent for the force, offering to send in up to 3,000 troops. Prodi has been pushing for more countries to contribute troops to the mission.