Lebanon: carnage mounts, US blocks ceasefire efforts

Israeli combat jets continue to pound Lebanon, ostensibly targeting Hezbollah missile sites. Israeli military authorities said jets hit 130 targets in Lebanon July 27 and early the 28th, including a Hezbollah base in the Bekaa Valley, where Israel said long-range rockets and rocket launchers were stored. Air-strikes also continued on supposed Hezbollah missile sites in Tyre which had been targeting Haifa. Israeli planes also destroyed a building said to belong to a Hezbollah militant in the southern village of Kfar Jouz, killing three and wounding nine, including four children. More people are believed trapped beneath the rubble. Ground combat continued in Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold just north of the Israeli border. Hezbollah launched 14 rockets into northern Israel July 28, injuring two people. Since the fighting began on July 12, Israeli attacks have killed at least 440 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians. Hezbollah has killed 33 Israeli soldiers and 19 civilians. (JTA, July 28)

The UNHCR’s first convoy of aid for Lebanon is scheduled to leave Syria for Beirut July 29. An estimated 800,000 have been displaced in Lebanon since the conflict began. Some 30,000 have crossed the border into Syria. (Reuters, July 28)

“The civilian toll in Lebanon stands now at over 600, according to the minister of health,” UN humnitarian coordinator Jan Egeland told the UN Security Council in a briefing on the crisis July 28. “The majority are women and children.” He said that the overall number of dead would increase because many bodies have been left in the rubble of homes in areas that have not yet been reached. (News.com, Australia, July 29)

The United Nations also announced it will remove unarmed observers from their posts in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah units are operating within 500 yards of the UNIFIL post, near Khiam, and the Israeli air force is preparing the area for a major ground incursion. (JTA, July 28)

Lebanese security forces working with Hezbollah have reportedly detained some 50 people suspected of spying for Israel in recent days. At least 36 informants, many of them former members of a now defunct pro-Israeli militia, were arrested in the eastern Bekaa Valley and the south, security sources said. Twenty-two more were arrested in Beirut and its southern suburbs earlier in the conflict, some accused of helping Israeli planes pinpoint Hezbollah targets. (News24, South Africa, July 26)

On July 27, China expressed anger that the United States “watered down” a United Nations Security Council statement on the deadly Israeli strike on a UN observer mission. Released after two days of back-room negotiations, the statement expressed “shock and distress” at the bombing, but fell short of China’s demand that council members “condemn any deliberate attack against UN personnel.” (CanWest, July 28)

In Rome, an international conference called to address the crisis failed to agree on a call for an immediate ceasefire, instead vowing only to work immediately with “utmost urgency” towards one. A declaration followed the US line, backed by the UK, that a ceasefire in the region “must be lasting, permanent and sustainable.” Arab countries had been calling for an immediate halt to hostilities. (PTI, July 27)

Israel’s justice minister, Haim Ramon, told Army Radio that the statement from the conference in Rome was effectively “permission” for Israel to continue its offensive.

“We received yesterday in the Rome conference permission, in effect, from the world, part of it gritting its teeth and part of it granting its blessing, to continue the operation, this war, until Hezbollah’s presence is erased in Lebanon and it is disarmed,” Ramon was quoted as saying.

European leaders said Ramon was mistaken. “I would say just the opposite – yesterday in Rome it was clear that everyone present wanted to see an end to the fighting as swiftly as possible,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

In Washington, President Bush said the U.S. goal was to help end the conflict “as quickly as possible, but at the same time, be sure there’s a lasting peace.”

“It must be real. It can’t be fake,” Bush said in response to a reporter’s question at the White House. He said there was a “serious diplomatic effort going on.” (Newsday, July 28)

See our last post on the Lebanon crisis.

  1. UN official fears Israel will raze Tyre
    Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST Jul. 29, 2006
    A top UN peacekeeping official on Friday said he feared the war in southern Lebanon would continue until the end of August and voiced fears Israel would flatten Lebanon’s southern villages and destroy the port of Tyre “neighborhood by neighborhood” if Hizbullah rockets keep slamming into the Jewish state.

    At UN peacekeeping headquarters in Naqaura, barely a stone’s throw from Israel, political affairs officer Ryszard Morczynski said Tyre would become a target of intense Israeli attacks because Hizbullah was firing rockets from the city’s suburbs into Haifa.

    “I have no doubt that Israel will flatten Tyre if civilian casualties continue in Haifa. Tyre will be taken off neighborhood by neighborhood,” Morczynski warned. “I think Israel is contemplating flattening villages, flattening every single house to deny Hizbullah any advantage of urban fighting in the streets.”

    He estimated that 80 percent of the roughly half-million people who live in Southern Lebanon, demarcated by the Litani River, have already fled the embattled area. He also said he feared the civilian death toll in Lebanon was more than 600, well more than the official count of 400-plus.

    “Hizbullah are still strong” 17 days into the conflict, peacekeeping chief, Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini told The Associated Press.

    And according to Morczynski’s calculation roughly 800 Hizbullah fighters operate in the southern region on any given day.

    “They are mobile, well-prepared, devoted and willing to act. When there is shelling … they are not sitting in their bunkers.”

    The Hizbullah stronghold of Bint Jbail attests to Hizbullah’s tenacity.

    “In Bint Jbail it looks like the Israelis have pulled out and are now preparing the ground to come in again,” Morczynski said, after Hizbullah fighters had pushed the limited Israeli ground force to the southern edges of the town.

    Also, he said, there was evidence Hizbullah’s communications were intact and their fire-and-run tactics were still effective. There was no sign that their supply of rockets was dwindling and Israel has had limited success in targeting their launchers, often crude and mobile.

    Morczynski said the peacekeepers occasionally intercept Hizbullah communications. He recalled a typical such exchange: “Allah is great. My brothers this is number 13 and we are going to operation number 7. We hope that our brothers are safe for the day.” Hizbullah uses numbers and letters as codes to identify the fighter and the location.

    Hizbullah firepower would seem to be a combination of sophisticated missiles and the older Katyusha rockets, Morczynski said. Some are launched from the back of trucks, while the small, older rockets are ferried on motorcycles and launched from portable triangular shaped launchers.

    “They have thousands of them. They are scattered everywhere – in caves, houses, bushes, abandoned buildings. They aren’t all in one, two or three depots that you can hit and say now we have wiped them out,” he said adding Israel wanted to clear Hizbullah from a two kilometer strip along its northern border.

    “The only way to prevent the launch of rockets is to erase all launching positions of Hizbullah. That is the only solution,” Pellegrini said. “But it is difficult.”

    Despite the sophistication of the Israeli military machine, the advantage seems still to lay with Hizbullah, said Morczynski. While it only takes the Israelis about two minutes to target the origin of a Hizbullah rocket and retaliate, it hasn’t stopped the rocket fire and it is very unclear how many fighters have been hit.

    The thrust of the Israeli attack is still with its air force but Morczynski said he anticipated a large scale invasion if the hostilities continued.

    “It is clear that if the pace of the war continues as it is today it will continue until the end of August,” said Morczynski. While Israel is reluctant to wage a ground assault, he said it would be unavoidable in another two weeks because the Israeli Defense Force will need a victory.

    “Now the war is going on too long without any big success. Something has to happen soon because they have to show some success to the Israeli public,” he said.

    Rarely does a day pass, Pellegrini said, that his compound and its environs in Naqaurna isn’t hit by Israeli artillery. His headquarters is in a dangerous position because Hizbullah fighters get close to the UN compound to fire their rockets putting the headquarters in the crossfire.

    Pellegrini said his worst experience was 1984 – also in Lebanon.

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