BEIRUT (AFP) – Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has pledged to help enforce stability in Lebanon, including efforts to secure a prisoners’ swap with Israel. Prodi, whose country will soon be the leading contributor of troops to the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, said Rome was eager to help boost Lebanon’s political stability and reconstruction.

"Not only Italy, but all of the European Union, is willing to make an effort to stabilise the country and stabilise the area," he said during a media conference with his Lebanese counterpart, Fuad Siniora.Asked about potential Italian help to secure a prisoner exchange, Prodi said: "We discussed this issue… and I said that helping to resolve this issue will help restore peace.

"But I cannot say more," he added Wednesday.The Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12 in a bid to secure a prisoner swap. Israel responded with a massive month-long offensive on Lebanon.The war ended on August 14 under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for Israel’s pullout from south Lebanon and the dispatch of Lebanese army troops in tandem with a deployment of a boosted UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Siniora said the talks with Prodi tackled "how Italy can help Lebanon in pushing Israel to stop violations" of Resolution 1701, including the near-daily violations of Lebanese airspace.

Prodi said "we still have to go on in the process of withdrawal" — in a reference to Lebanese complaints that Israeli forces are still occupying Lebanese parts of the border village of Ghajar.

"There are still details … and there are the Shebaa Farms" border territory also claimed by Lebanon, he said.

Siniora said Prodi expressed readiness for an "active participation" in an international conference, due to be held by the end of the year, on which "we are putting lots of expectations to save Lebanon’s economy."

Italy, Lebanon’s number-one trading partner, has "several ideas on how to participate in the early recovery of Lebanon," Siniora said.

Lebanon is reeling under severe hardships since the Israeli offensive, which destroyed much of its infrastructure and devastated its economy. Material damage from the offensive has been estimated at around 3.6 billion dollars.

Prodi, who arrived in Beirut late Tuesday, also met with influential parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, who has been entrusted by Hezbollah to handle negotiations for a prisoner swap with Israel.

Before ending his visit later Wednesday, Prodi travelled to southern Lebanon to visit the 1,000-strong Italian contingent operating with UNIFIL.

He also visited the Italian flagship aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi, along with Siniora.

"We will always remember what you did for Lebanon," Siniora told sailors on board.

Having pledged to contribute up to 2,500 troops to UNIFIL, Italy is a leading element in the UN peacekeeping mission, which is currently under French command.

Italy is due to take over command of the expanded force in February.

Rome has already taken command of the naval force monitoring the Lebanese coasts to prevent trafficking in weapons pending the arrival of a German task force in mid-October.

The Europeans are bolstering the UNIFIL force already present in the region, helping to monitor a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah following the war.