It is a great pleasure for me to be here in Shama today, alongside Minister Pinotti and the Chief of Staff for Defence, to bring all of you warm greetings from Italy, the delegation accompanying me and myself.
Our country has for years been involved in Lebanon as part of the United Nations initiative: I am very pleased to be here for my first visit to one of our military contingents abroad as President of the Republic of Italy.
We can look with satisfaction to the results obtained by UNIFIL, undoubtedly a mission that constitutes one of the major successes for the United Nations, whose presence here dates back to 1978.
Italy's support has never been lacking, even when we were asked to step up our involvement following the strengthening of the mission in 2006 with UNIFIL 2.
A demanding mission that has lasted several decades, in a nation that is the cradle of great civilisations in the Mediterranean, the result of different traditions and religions living side by side.
A land of great culture which Italy has always looked to with fondness and friendship.
In Lebanon today, soldiers and civilians from 40 different countries are working together harmoniously and with shared intent. They are united by the same ideals, and fully aware of this country's importance in regional balances.
UNIFIL, based on an experience of dialogue and mutual respect, shows how even difficult goals can be achieved when the international community acts in a concerted manner, promoting stabilisation and peace and prioritising collective security.
We have an ever increasing need for this collective solidarity and unified vision.
Today, UNIFIL's mission has become, if possible, even more important.
It is enough to look to what is happening in nearby Syria, where the much sought after truce, reached after great efforts and too many atrocities, is constantly threatened.
And events in Syria have an immediate impact, not only on the region, but also in the whole European Union, starting from, but not restricted to, the issue of refugees.
This issue has opened a debate within the Union that at times takes on a rash tone belonging to Europe's distant past, which some want to resurrect, forgetting the tragedies this caused.
Lebanon has dealt with the difficulties connected to a constant flow of refugees for a long time, showing a solidarity which requires the country to make notable sacrifices. Old and new settlements account for almost one third of its entire population.
It is an approach that stands as an example to all the Mediterranean and Europe.
First and foremost, the countries of origin for migration flow must be helped, but, equally, the transit and asylum countries most affected by the phenomenon must also be supported, as is the case for Lebanon.
Initiatives must be developed and coordinated in various arenas: the proposals that make up the "Migration compact" within the European Union are an example of this.
Europe still remembers the long and draining series of conflicts that undermined peace in the rest of the world too.
Recent tragedies still resonate, as does the memory of the great suffering and sacrifices caused by two devastating world wars, passed down from one generation to another.
This has led us to seek harmony and understanding in our continent, through strength and determination, and has encouraged us to not remain indifferent to crisis hotbeds, even when these are developing in areas that are not immediately adjacent to our borders, but that end up having an impact on far broader geographical regions, as is constantly observed.
This is why Italy participates with such conviction and with decisive roles in this area's peace missions as part of the choices made by the international Organisations our country is a member of.
We do so in the knowledge that everyone has dignity to be respected. That human rights are indivisible.
We do so for our security and for collective security.
Each and every one of you, for this reason, has the right to feel rightly proud of the contribution you are making, in your different roles, to such an important mission.
Italy is a key player in defending peace, and you, in this, are Italy.
Being part of our country, and at the same time representing it, is a source of pride that goes beyond the important symbols on the uniform you wear.
And representing the United Nations, wearing your "blue berets", is undoubtedly a feeling that heightens your sense of responsibility.
In these long years, the appreciation and respect for you and those who have come before you has never been lacking from all regional players involved.
The great balance and absolute equidistance among all parties, the sensitivity towards the population which you always show, even in the most difficult times - here as in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and everywhere your country asks you to go - are the identity card for our Armed Forces.
It is through these characteristics that the "Italian spirit" of our soldiers, synonymous with respect, generosity and justice, emerges. You are among the best ambassadors for our country, in the most difficult circumstances.
From the beginning of the "Leonte" Operation in 2006, over 32,200 Italian soldiers have come here.
Intensive reconnaissance, control and surveillance work has been carried out.
An area of more than 11,000 square metres has been cleared, allowing for life to return. There where the legacy of a hateful war, made up of insidious mines and various types of unexploded devices, continued to claim innocent victims years later, preventing communities from getting on with their lives peacefully.
The positioning on the field of Blue Barrels, making up the Blue Line, has continued. This is essential in order to define the line of reference with the consensus of parties, so as to avoid dangerous misunderstandings and provocations.
I would like to congratulate and pay tribute to General Portolano, Commander of UNIFIL 2 who continues the brilliant tradition of Italian Commanders who have preceded him in this delicate role, for his attentive leadership.
The difficult mediation work carried out, in full compliance with the mandate dictated by Security Council Resolution n. 1701, has earned General Portolano the sincere appreciation and respect of all parties and UN leaders.
His leadership of the "Blue Helmets" has consolidated Italy's prestige within the United Nations, as well as among UNIFIL mission participants.
To the "Sassari" Brigade, which was behind so many heroic battles a century ago back in 1916 on the Seven Communes Plateau, where it earned its first two Gold Medals, and to its Sector West Commander, General Nitti: I wish you well in your work and hope you will reap rewards equal to your glorious reputation.
"Dimonios", able to overcome any challenge.
On 24 May I will visit the Asiago Plateau to pay tribute to those who fell in the Great War, and I will bring with me your thoughts for those who preceded you in the Brigade.
I am fully aware of how much you are doing, not without sacrifice, far from your homes and your loved ones.
Your work makes a determining contribution to our country's image and prestige within the international community.
I am happy to bring to you and your loved ones, as I stand here today, the affection and recognition of Italy, in the knowledge of the blood that has been shed by our fallen ones under the UNIFIL flag.
Your role in this mission is of great importance for the security of Lebanon, our friend, for the stability of the Middle East and for maintaining the balance among peoples in this region, who we are joined to by a long history and a longstanding friendship.
Long live the Armed Forces, long live the Republic.