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PM Offers To Send Troops To Mideast

Posted on Saturday, May 31 at 09:29 by polemarch1

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Canada already has 187 troops on the strategic Golan Heights and holds command position as part of a 1,052-member United Nations peacekeeping force.

The peacekeeping force was established in 1975 to supervise a ceasefire and maintain a buffer zone between Israel and Syria.

After more than a decade of budget cuts, Canadian generals say the army is stretched too thin to provide troops for new peacekeeping missions.

As well, a force of 1,800 soldiers is already committed to a UN-mandated force in Afghanistan. The Canadian troops are to join the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul this summer.

The Prime Minister said Canada can nonetheless quickly deploy troops as part of an international peacekeeping force to the region, as it did in East Timor and Ethiopia. "Peacekeeping has always been the number one priority for Canada. We have, fortunately, evolved to be able to move faster than others," he said.

However, Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier, who took charge of the army at a change-of-command ceremony in Ottawa yesterday, warned that years of budget cuts have put so much strain on the military that a moratorium on deployments abroad would be welcome to give the forces time to rebuild.

Lt.-Gen. Hillier, a plain-talking Newfoundlander, said he would like to see either more soldiers or fewer tasks. "What we do want to see is a reduction of what we are doing, in the middle term here, and give us a chance to get the army back to the level of health that it needs to be," he said.

The general said asking the military to do more is almost impossible. "Our soldiers do magnificent work; they do it without complaint and they give Canada great service. I'd like [Canada] to support them just a little bit better."

At the same time as Mr. Chrétien indicated a willingness to aid Mr. Bush's plan for Mideast peace, he also expressed disappointment that Mr. Bush has decided to leave the G8 summit a day early to travel to Egypt for a meeting with Arab leaders, and to Jordan for three-way talks with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers. Mr. Chrétien did acknowledge that the early departure was for the cause of Mideast peace.

After criticizing Mr. Bush's economic and social policies in advance of the summit in Evian, France, Mr. Chrétien yesterday praised him for getting personally involved in the peace process.

"We were disappointed [about Mr. Bush leaving the G8 early], but on the other hand, to see the President of the United States being personally engaged into the Middle East process is something that I welcome very much. I think to solve the problem in the Middle East will require collective will to resolve it," he told reporters in St. Petersburg, where 40 world leaders are celebrating the city's 300th anniversary.

The Bush "road map" for peace calls for an immediate ceasefire, a crackdown on Palestinian militias, an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian towns and the dismantling of Jewish settlements erected since 2001. A Palestinian state with provisional borders could be established by year's end and full statehood could come within three years, according to the timetable.

The Prime Minister indicated Canada is further prepared to help in the resettlement of more than 3.5 million Palestinian refugees. Canada chairs a refugee working group that provides basic services to Palestinian refugees in the Arab region.

"Canada is involved since a long time with the refugee problem in this part of the world and that will become an important element at the time of the settlements ... so we can play a role," Mr. Chrétien said.

In 2000, during a tour of the Middle East, the Prime Minister made an informal offer to Israel that it would accept as many as 15,000 Palestinian refugees now living in other Arab nations.

A decision by Canada to take Palestinian refugees would presuppose they would never be allowed to return to their former homes in the West Bank and in what is now Israel.

The Palestine Liberation Organization has always insisted on the return of the refugees to their homes in Israel, which were abandoned during the 1948 war that led to the establishment of the Jewish state, and to their homes on the West Bank, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.

"For a large group of refugees there, this is not their first choice," a senior Canadian official noted.
Israel has always opposed the return of the refugees, fearing they would alter the demographic balance and destroy the Jewish nature of the state.

The U.S. President will participate in talks on terrorism at the meeting but will miss Tuesday's wrap-up communiqué.

Mr. Bush said yesterday he hoped to use the meeting to heal rifts with Jacques Chirac, the French President, and other allies that opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

It will be Mr. Bush's first meeting with Mr. Chirac, who was the most vocal opponent of the war.

"There is a sense of frustration and disappointment amongst the American people toward the French decision," the President said. "I've got to work to convince the skeptics in France that the intentions of the United States are positive ... and the French leadership has got work to do to convince the American people that they are concerned about the security of our country."

Note: Source: The National Post

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