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.