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PICKING UP THE PIECES IN LEBANON

ISRAEL SHOWS ITíS NOT SERIOUS ABOUT LASTING PEACE IN MIDEAST

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By Richard Walker

Since the fighting in Lebanon ended it has been increasingly clear that Israel has been unwilling to make important concessions to guarantee a lasting peace.

Israel continues to argue about the size of the proposed UN force intended for south Lebanon, insisting it will keep its troops in the country until that force numbers 15,000 and is also placed on the border between Lebanon and Syria. That hard-line position runs contrary to the view of countries like France and Italy which contend that a force of 9,000 would be sufficient to guard a buffer zone in south Lebanon.

As for Israelís demand that the UN force also be placed along the border with Syria, that is not a requirement in the UN resolution dealing with the crisis and has been dismissed by Syria, Lebanon, France and Italy. They say it is not part of the UN mandate.

Syria has already warned that such a move would stir up even more trouble in the region. Syrian officials believe this is an Israeli tactic devised to undermine a peace agreement.

While those are some of the issues pointing to Israelís role in provoking the situation, there are other issues that are even more troubling.

One of those issues has been Israelís unwillingness to lift the air and sea blockade of Lebanon.

At the outset of the ceasefire, the blockade prevented a speedy humanitarian relief effort and delayed international efforts to deal with a massive oil spill caused by Israelís bombing of a major oil storage facility. Experts have argued that Israel knew when it bombed the facility that the outcome would be an environmental hazard. That was indeed the result and there is now an oil slick covering most of the beautiful Lebanese coastline.

The damage to wildlife, the fishing industry and to beaches

has been immense. For years to come fish stocks in the region will have to be tested for cancerous bacteria. More importantly, Israel hampered international clean-up plans by refusing to permit aerial reconnaissance of the coastline to assess the damage.

American Free Press first reported on this environmental catastrophe in the Aug. 21 edition.

For the Lebanese, the pollution issue and Israelís cynical refusal to allow an immediate cleanup was another humiliation and infringement of their sovereignty.

Since then there has been growing resentment toward the United States and the United Nations on part of Lebanon.

Some of the bitterness toward the UN relates to its inaction over 34 days while Israel destroyed the civilian infrastructure. Worse still was an incident which involved 18 Lebanese villagers who were refused shelter at a UN post. Those villagers were killed a short time later when an Israeli pilot, using a guided missile, deliberately targeted the minibus in which they were traveling.

Another issue that has sparked fierce anti-UN sentiment has been the insistence of the UN representative to the region, Terje Larsen, that Hizbullah must be disarmed in accordance with UN Resolution 1559. Most Lebanese, and countries prepared to send troops to the region as part of a UN force, agree that the UN peace mandate does not require the disarming of Hizbullah. Nevertheless, Larsen has continued to take the Israeli line, leading many people to accuse him of bias.

In an interview televised throughout the Middle East, Hezbullah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah accused Larsen of serving ďIsrael first and foremost.Ē

Critics of the UN have also questioned why the organization has yet to initiate an investigation into Israelís use of cluster munitions in civilian areas. When the ceasefire began, Israel categorically denied using cluster bombs.

However, as AFPís analysis notes on page 14, the evidence is now irrefutable. So far, 12 children have been killed because they lifted bombs that formed part of cluster munitions. Those munitions were supplied to Israel by the U.S. military, which has also used them in densely populated regions of Iraq. The International Criminal Court has condemned the use of
armaments such as cluster bombs in civilian zones, pointing out that they are indiscriminate weapons.

Another outstanding issue is whether Israel has used phosphorous bombs against civilian targets. Lebanese President Emile Lahoud contends that the Israeli military did. Human rights groups are currently investigating the matter.

If it can be proven that Israel used munitions such as cluster bombs and phosphorus, the military and the government could be prosecuted for war crimes.

(Issue #37, September 11, 2006)

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Updated September 1, 2006