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Peace-keeping force ready for Beirut

ROME -- French and Italian soliders stood on alert today, ready to join American troops en route to Lebanon, where they will oversee the evacuation of Palestinian guerrillas from west Beirut.

The multinational force was waiting for U.S. peace envoy Philip Habib to negotiate with Israel the final points on a Palestine Liberation Organization withdrawal from Beirut.

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Most of the 1,800 Marines attached to the U.S. 6th Fleet left Naples Monday aboard a helicopter assault ship headed for the waters off Lebanon.

The marines will rendezvous with others aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence, which was already in the eastern Mediterranean.

Some 800 of those marines will join 800 French paratroopers and Italian troops in the peacekeeping force.

In the southern Italian Adriatic port city of Brindisi, 530 members of the 2nd Governolo Bersaglieri battalion and 30 paramilitary policemen were waiting to set sail on one merchant and two military ships.

The Italian troops painted their helmets and 200 military vehicles white to distinguish themselves from the Israelis and the PLO fighters.

In France, two regiments of the 11th parachute division -- one based on the island of Corsica and the other at Carcasonne in southwestern France -- were on alert for Beirut duty. French naval vessels are now in the eastern Mediterranean.

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The specific functions of the multinational force or the order in which they will arrive in Beirut are still not clear. Defense officials of each of the nations involved refused to discuss details of their troops' missions.

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