Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul is due to conduct a long-awaited visit to Greece during the first week of October, government sources told Kathimerini yesterday. The trip would be Gul’s first official visit to Athens, where he is expected to have talks with his counterpart Dora Bakoyannis and other government officials. The planned two-day visit is being regarded as particularly significant as it comes at a critical time. The European Commission is due to issue a report on Ankara’s progress in meeting EU candidate state standards in October. Meanwhile, Turkish forces have stepped up their offensive against Kurdish rebels near the country’s southern border. Also, the country is in something of a political limbo ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections due early next year. No comments about Gul’s anticipated visit were made yesterday by Bakoyannis, who was attending an emergency summit in Brussels on the Middle East crisis. She is due back in Athens today to brief Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on her tour of the Middle East and the details hammered out at the Brussels summit. Following the EU talks, Bakoyannis remarked that «Europe has successfully responded to the UN Secretary-General’s [Kofi Annan] call for a reinforced peacekeeping force.» «Today’s decision is a very significant step forward in peace efforts,» she added. After consulting with the EU’s foreign ministers, Annan confirmed that their countries would provide the backbone of a 15,000-strong UN-backed peacekeeping force in Lebanon. He said he had asked France to lead the force. «I am very, very encouraged by the commitments we have received here at this meeting,» he said. So far, the Lebanon force comprises just over 8,000 troops along with air force and naval units to which Greece has already contributed, Bakoyannis said. Prior to her arrival in Brussels yesterday, Bakoyannis had talks with Israeli government officials in Tel Aviv on Thursday night. According to diplomatic sources, the Israeli leadership told Bakoyannis that the mobilization of a peacekeeping force would have to precede Israel’s lifting of the blockade of Lebanon. The same sources said that Israel is skeptical of the Lebanese government’s ability to curb the influence of Hezbollah on its country.