Israeli occupation continues


On October 1, Alexander Ivanko, the chief spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), denied Israel's assertions, made earlier that day, that all Israeli troops had been withdrawn from southern Lebanon. He told a Lebanese radio station that Israeli troops were still occupying Ghajar — a village with 1800 residents the UN recognised in 2000 as straddling the Lebanon-Syria border.

CNN reported that "Israeli military sources had previously said the final phase of withdrawal took place on Sunday, when the last Israeli soldier withdrew. When asked about the UNIFIL report, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed its forces are still operating near Ghajar and will continue to do so 'until IDF, UNIFIL and the Lebanese army come to an agreement regarding the security arrangements in the area'."

Following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah resistance fighters during a July 12 border skirmish, Israel launched a 34-day war on Lebanon.

During the war, 10,000 Israeli troops invaded southern Lebanon, but were only able to advance a few kilometres because of unexpectedly strong resistance by some 1500 Hezbollah fighters. During Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, it only took the IDF two days to advance to the outskirts of Beirut.

During the recent war, the IDF also carried out at least 12,000 air attacks and fired some 237,000 artillery shells into southern Lebanese towns and villages. This massive bombardment killed 1300 civilians, one-third of them children; displaced 1 million civilians (a quarter of Lebanon's population); and destroyed 15,500 apartment units, 34,000 houses and business premises, 350 schools and two hospitals.

In retaliation, Hezbollah fired some 4000 unguided Katyusha rockets at northern Israel, killing 44 civilians.

Israel's war was aimed at turning Lebanon's population against Hezbollah, a Shiite-based party whose resistance fighters, after an 18-year guerilla war, had forced the IDF to pull out of most of southern Lebanon in 2000. (Israeli troops continued to occupy the southern part of Ghajar after 2000, as well as the 25-square-kilometre Shebaa Farms area — both of which Israel seized in 1967 and annexed in 1981.)

Israel's strategy backfired, with public opinion in Lebanon decisively swinging behind Hezbollah's resistance. This was confirmed on September 22 when Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah made his first public appearance since the end of the war, speaking at a rally of some 800,000 cheering supporters in southern Beirut.

Israel and the US classify Hezbollah, which has 14 MPs and two cabinet ministers, as a "terrorist" organisation.

The Israeli Haaretz reported that a September 24 anti-Hezbollah rally organised in the predominantly Christian-inhabited north of Beirut by the right-wing Lebanese Forces militia-turned-party was only "attended by thousands".

The fighting between Israel and Hezbollah generally ceased after August 14 when Israel accepted UN Security Council Resolution 1701 (adopted on August 11), which called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and for the Israeli occupation troops to be replaced by up to 15,000 UNIFIL troops and up to 15,000 Lebanese Army troops.

By that time, the IDF had suffered 1400 casualties (110 dead, 1300 wounded), and had lost 70 heavily armoured Merkava tanks.

By October 1, UNIFIL — set up in 1978 to supervise a UN-ordered "immediate" IDF withdrawal following Israel's March 1978 invasion of southern Lebanon — had deployed 5200 soldiers in south Lebanon. Prior to August 14, UNIFIL consisted of 2000 soldiers.

Associated Press reported on October 2 that "Lebanese President Emile Lahoud Monday accused Israel of failing to live up to its commitments under the UN cease-fire resolution by holding on to Lebanese territory and violating the country's sovereignty".

Lahoud said Israeli warplanes were continuing to violate Lebanese airspace and that IDF troops remained in Ghajar and the Shebaa Farms.

AP reported that Lebanese Armed Forces commander General Michel Suleiman told the first LAF troops to enter border villages vacated by the IDF that while the poorly equipped LAF was no match for the IDF it would "confront the Israeli aggressions and violations within the available capabilities".

On October 2, Naim Kassem, Hezbollah's deputy secretary-general, told journalists in Beirut there would be a renewal of fighting if the IDF did not withdraw from the northern part of Ghajar and the Shebaa Farms. "We will not tolerate this and have the right to confront it at the timing and in the way we choose", Kassem said.