LEBANON: Israeli attacks continue


Doug Lorimer

On August 28, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan told journalists that Israel had committed 70 violations of the UN-ordered truce that ended the assault on Lebanon, compared to four by Hezbollah.

Israeli officials argue that their continued attacks on Lebanese villages don't violate the UN ceasefire because, they claim, no ceasefire has been ordered. "We are at a cessation of hostilities in Lebanon, not a ceasefire", an Israeli government spokesperson told the September 1 New York Times, claiming that UN Resolution 1701 gave Israel the right to "self-defence".

Indeed, Resolution 1701, unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council on August 11, called for a "full cessation of hostilities, based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations" — leaving the way open for Israel to justify continued attacks as "defensive" military operations.

"That difference is apparent every day across southern Lebanon", the NYT reported. "Israeli tanks crisscross the dry brown hills, shooting into the fields and smashing up houses and stone walls." Israeli soldiers have detained some Lebanese men, "releasing them only days later".

For 34 days after July 12, Israeli forces carried out more than 7000 bombing sorties and launched around 250 artillery shells a day into southern Lebanese towns — ostensibly to force Hezbollah to return two Israeli soldiers it had captured on July 12.

On August 1, 10,000 Israeli troops invaded southern Lebanon, but because of fierce resistance by Hezbollah fighters, they were only able to advance a few kilometres across the border before the UN-brokered truce came into effect on August 14.

Israel insists it will not fully withdraw its troops until the 1990-member UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) — set up in 1978 to supervise a UN-ordered "immediate withdrawal" of invading Israeli troops from southern Lebanon — is fully expanded to 15,000 troops, as called for by Resolution 1701.

The September 1 NYT reported that the presence of Israeli soldiers, and the prominent flying of Israeli flags in Lebanese territory, "have further angered villagers already stunned by the extent of the Israeli bombing. Even some Christians, whose villages were largely spared the destruction visited on Shiite areas, say the war has fueled their support for Hezbollah.

On September 4, Annan told journalists that Israel and Hezbollah had accepted his offer to mediate the release of the two captured Israeli soldiers in exchange for the release of Arab prisoners held by Israel.

"It would be the first time that Israel has publicly agreed to indirect contacts with the Lebanese group over winning the release of the two soldiers", Associated Press reported.

Hezbollah had captured the two soldiers with the aim of getting a prisoner exchange. Hezbollah and Israel have conducted prisoner swaps in the past, after secret negotiations.

The Shiite-based Lebanese political party — which has 14 MPs and two cabinet ministers, and which led a successful guerrilla war against Israel's 1982-2000 occupation of south Lebanon — is designated a "terrorist organisation" by Israel and the US.

AP reported on September 4 that the first significant group of "international peacekeepers" had arrived in Lebanon the previous day, Italian soldiers reaching bases in the country's south.

Italy has pledged to commit up to 3000 troops to UNIFIL, part of pledges by European Union countries to add 7000 troops to the UN force. Another 7000 troops are expected to come from majority Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia after Israel dropped its objection to troops being supplied by countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the Zionist state.

On September 3, Germany's Deutsche Welle news service reported that the French commander of UNIFIL, General Alain Pellegrini, had reiterated that UN troops would not seek to disarm Hezbollah's militants. "This is the job of the Lebanese army."

On September 4 Russia's Kommersant reported from the bombed-out town of Qana that officially the Lebanese army had taken control of previously Hezbollah-managed territory. But it added: "Hezbollah reached an agreement with the Lebanese government not to interfere with the Lebanese army and to pretend not to be there. In return, the authorities promised not to disarm Hezbollah."

Kommersant reported that "Qana is in ruins now. A new cemetery has sprung up at the entrance to the town. Two months ago it was the site of a playground, but now 61 people are interred there, 27 of them children ...

"Hezbollah's yellow flags fly on all sides of the cemetery and no-one takes them down, even though the cemetery appeared as a result of its actions."

"I wasn't for Hezbollah before, but now when I see [the cemetery], I understand that we have no protectors except Hezbollah", a local said.

"If it weren't for Hezbollah, they wouldn't have bombed you. What were these sacrifices for?", the reporter asked. The villager replied: "If you don't want to be brought to your knees, many have to sacrifice."