Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Doug Lorimer, "LEBANON: 'Peace’ plan a 'green light’ for war," Green Left Weekly, August 16, 2006.

On August 11, the Security Council unanimously adopted a modified version of the US-French draft, calling for the 1900-member UN observer force — UNIFIL, which has been in Lebanon since 1978 — to be expanded to 15,000 troops and for it to gradually replace the current Israeli invasion force in southern Lebanon.

There is no timetable set out for this to happen — leaving the way open for Israel to continue its war on Lebanon under the guise of “defensive” military operations.

During the night of August 7, an Israeli warplane fired a missile into an apartment block on Haijaj Street, in the densely populated southern Beirut suburb of Shiyyah. “We thought it was safe here as there are no Hezbollah people or offices here, but we were wrong”, Haijaj Street resident Fatima Ismail told Toronto Globe and Mail reporter Mark MacKinnon. The attack killed at least 31 people; 60 were wounded.

“As she sat on the floor of a hospital room surrounded by bleeding relatives”, MacKinnon wrote, “the 21-year-old secretary spat at the idea that Israel was seeking only to destroy the Hezbollah militia and its ability to launch Katyusha rockets across the border. 'Look! There’s no Katyusha in here!’ she yelled, unzipping a pocket on her jeans to reveal there was nothing inside. 'Is my heart a Katyusha? Is my sister a Katyusha? Where is Hezbollah here? Where?’”

In response to Israeli air and artillery attacks on Lebanon, Hezbollah-led Lebanese resistance fighters have fired several thousand unguided Katyusha rockets into northern Israel. By August 7, these rocket attacks had killed 36 Israeli civilians and 12 soldiers. Another 48 Israeli soldiers had been killed in battles in south Lebanon.

The Haijaj Street massacre, MacKinnon wrote, “was the closest the Israeli military had struck to the centre of the Lebanese capital during its four-week-old campaign”. Many of the victims were Shia Muslims who had fled southern Lebanon.

Diaa el-Husseini, a 34-year-old market trader who lived in the adjoining tower block, told the London Times: “We thought we were safe here so we stayed. We are not fighters. We are families who only want a peaceful life, but Israel wants to terrorise us all into leaving the southern suburbs of Beirut. Today we all feel part of the Hezbollah resistance.”

The missile attack on the Haijaj Street apartment block was only one of eight carried out that night by Israeli warplanes on Beirut’s largely Shiite-inhabited southern suburbs, most of which have suffered repeated Israeli air attacks over the previous four weeks.

Reporting on the massacre, the London Times commented: “If Israel thought that by slowly strangling the life out of the Lebanese capital, by blockading it from land, sea and air, it would turn Christians against their Muslim neighbours it appears to have miscalculated. The tragedy on Hajjaj Street ... was Beirut’s single biggest loss of life since the war began, bringing the total to more than 1000.”

The attack “hardened the public mood. Even those in the Christian half of the capital, who were beginning to call for a ceasefire at any price, spoke yesterday of their disgust at what Israeli warplanes were doing to their city ...”

Israeli war crimes
The August 6 London Observer reported: “As international outrage over civilian deaths [in Lebanon] grows, the spotlight is increasingly turning on Israeli air operations. The Observer has learnt that one senior commander who has been involved in the air attacks in Lebanon has already raised concerns that some of the air force’s actions might be considered ‘war crimes’.”

Indeed, Israel’s US-endorsed naval blockade and its air strikes stand in stark violation of the Geneva Conventions’ prohibitions against collective punishment, targeting of civilians and deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure.

The Israeli rulers have claimed that their war on Lebanon is targetted against “Hezbollah’s infrastructure” and is an act of “self-defence” in response to Hezbollah’s July 12 raid across the “Blue Line” — the border resulting from the 1949 armistice agreement between Lebanon and the newly created Israeli state.

However, the Hezbollah raid was limited to military targets. The only Israelis killed or captured were soldiers. Israel’s response, on the other hand, has been a full-scale war against Lebanese civilians and civilian infrastructure — starting with the bombing of Beirut’s international airport, followed by the bombing of ports, roads, bridges, power stations, food warehouses, fuel depots, water plants, factories, residential buildings, ambulances, cars with fleeing civilians and farm workers loading trucks with fruit.

“The Israeli enemy’s bombing of bridges and roads is aimed at tightening the blockade on the Lebanese, cutting communications between them and starving them”, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said in an August 4 statement.

Threat to attack UN forces
The August 7 British Guardian reported that Israel had declared a “curfew” in Lebanon’s south, “warning that all vehicles apart from humanitarian traffic would be at risk [of Israeli air attack] ... Israel also threatened to attack UN peacekeepers if they attempted to repair bomb-damaged bridges in southern Lebanon. UN officials contacted the Israeli army to inform them that a team of Chinese military engineers attached to the UN force in Lebanon intended to repair the bridge on the Beirut to Tyre road to enable the transport of humanitarian supplies.

“According to the UN, Israeli officials said the engineers would become a target if they attempted to repair the bridge.”

One million Lebanese — a quarter of the country’s population — have fled southern Lebanon, which has been subjected to around 100 Israeli air attacks and up to 4000 artillery strikes a day since July 13. Aid agencies estimate that about 100,000 civilians remain trapped in the area’s bombed-out towns and villages.

“The most vulnerable areas are in southern Lebanon, mostly in border villages where people have been staying in basements for over 15 days”, UNICEF sanitation adviser Paul Sherlock told Agence France-Presse on August 4. “There is no water, no power, no fuel, no sewage. Our biggest fear is hygiene. It is very hot and people are reduced to the point where they are not being able to wash themselves, or their hands. We fear bloody diarrhea, cholera and other epidemics.”

The August 9 Australian reported that Israel was planning to “ramp up its offensive” by attacking Lebanon’s “strategic civilian infrastructure” to try to make Beirut capitulate to ceasefire terms that were favourable to Israel.

An Israeli “senior general defence staff officer” said: “We are now in a process of renewed escalation. We will continue hitting everything that moves in Hezbollah, but we will also hit strategic civilian infrastructure.” The Israeli military of course has been doing that since it began its current war on Lebanon — its third in three decades.

But, contrary to the Murdoch media’s claim, the Israeli rulers do not want a ceasefire. They, and their allies in Washington, want Beirut to agree to the deployment of an international military force of tens of thousands of foreign troops in Lebanon that would attack the Hezbollah-led resistance fighters in south Lebanon from the north while the invading Israeli forces continued their attacks from the south.

Due to fierce Lebanese resistance, at the end of the fourth week of Israel’s war, 10,000 invading Israeli troops had only managed to penetrate some six kilometres into Lebanon. By contrast, during its 1982 invasion, the Israeli army took only three hours to reach the Litani River, 30km north of the border, and only 48 hours to reach the outskirts of Beirut.

UN 'green light’ for war
In pursuit of this plan and in consultation with Israeli officials, the US and France, the former colonial power in Lebanon, have drafted a UN resolution that calls for a “cessation of hostilities”. The resolution demands that Hezbollah halt its “attacks”, while Israel is required to cease its “offensive military operations”. The draft does not require Israel to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

Lebanese foreign minister Tarek Mitri told the UN Security Council on August 7: “We all know that Israel has never conceded that its actions in Lebanon have been anything but defensive. All their wars in our country are claimed to be defensive ... So when you say the Israelis have to cease their offensive military operations, you’re giving them a green light to go on.”

The Lebanese government, in which Hezbollah has two ministers, unanimously rejected the draft, calling on the UN to demand an immediate ceasefire and an immediate Israeli withdrawal from all Lebanese territory, including the Shebaa Farms area that Israel has occupied since its 1982 invasion. Associated Press reported on August 12 that the Lebanese cabinet had accepted the UN plan, but Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said there were “some reservations” about the decision.

While Paris indicated it was willing to rework the draft to accommodate some of Lebanon’s “concerns”, Washington has opposed this and on August 8 began pushing for quick adoption of the original draft by the Security Council. On August 11, the Security Council unanimously adopted a modified version of the US-French draft, calling for the 1900-member UN observer force — UNIFIL, which has been in Lebanon since 1978 — to be expanded to 15,000 troops and for it to gradually replace the current Israeli invasion force in southern Lebanon.

There is no timetable set out for this to happen — leaving the way open for Israel to continue its war on Lebanon under the guise of “defensive” military operations.

[Virginia Tilly has done a detailed analysis of UNSC 1701 in CounterPunch (August 19/20, 2006).]
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