ISRAEL-LEBANON CONFLICT RAPIDLY ESCALATING
HEZBOLLAH ROCKET ATTACKS MORE SOPHISTICATED THAN BEFORE, PROMPTING OVERWHELMING FORCE FROM ISRAELI MILITARY
17 July 2006
Israel's bombardment of Lebanon is described today as "relentless", with new targets in northern Lebanon having been hit and civilian death tolls and injuries mounting. Leaders at the G8 summit have issued a joint communiqué blaming Hezbollah attacks on civilians for the violence, demanding an end to rocket attacks, but calling on Israel to cease all operations in Lebanon that could harm civilians.
The central demand of the document is clear: "The extremists must immediately halt their attacks." While recognizing the right of Israel to defend itself, the communiqué urges Israel to "be mindful of the strategic and humanitarian consequences of its actions." The Associated press is reporting at least 7 Canadians —including 6 from one vacationing family— were killed by an Israeli airstrike.
The G8 document also asks that Israel not target infrastructure that could undermine civil society or destabilize the government, saying "We call upon Israel to exercise utmost restraint, seeking to avoid casualties among innocent civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure and to refrain from acts that would destabilize the Lebanese government."
Tony Blair and Kofi Annan have called for an international stabilization force along the Lebanese-Israeli border, to halt Hezbollah rocket attacks and help prevent civilian deaths in Lebanon. Annan reminded both sides forcefully that "under international humanitarian law, they have an obligation to spare civilian lives, they have an obligation to spare civilian infrastructure".
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, to which Israel is a signatory, requires that all parties to an armed conflict between a state and a non-state actor avoid taking civilian lives. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reminds "Deliberately attacking civilians is in all circumstances prohibited and a war crime", whichever party is responsible.
While targetting of legitimate military targets is permitted for either party to the conflict, under international humanitarian law, HRW reported in 1997 that "Katyushas are inaccurate weapons with an indiscriminate effect when fired into areas where civilians are concentrated. The use of such weapons in this manner is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law."
As Israel's bombardment intensifies, Hezbollah's determination to retaliate by targetting civilian centers has become more evident. Persistent rocket attacks on Israeli cities took 8 lives overnight. Israel's deputy PM Shimon Peres has been quoted saying the militant group is "running wild", and has called for international condemnation of Hezbollah and the Lebanese government which includes ministers from the group's political wing.
Israel has also said it may strike Syria if it is demonstrated to be a source for the weapons now being used by Hezbollah. Iran has warned Israel that an attack on Syria would lead to its "destruction", and public sentiment on the streets of Tehran has been described by the international press as "tense". BBC World Service Radio has described a general feeling of concern among civilians that Iran might become embroiled in a regional war or be bombed by Israel or the US if it takes miliitary action.
Lebanon's health minister suggests hospitals in Lebanon are "overwhelmed" by the number of casualties. He stressed that at present the system is still functioning, but warned hospitals may soon run short of supplies due to the air, sea and land blockade.
Kofi Annan has said he plans to discuss the issue of a new, expanded stabilization force in southern Lebanon with the rest of the G8 leaders, after Tony Blair calls for plans for the international force. Hezbollah has said the attack on Israel "is only just beginning", leading to widespread concern that the conflict will not abate, even if Israel achieves its stated objective of freeing two captured soldiers.
Canada, France, the US, the UK and Australia, among other nations, are examining complex evacuation strategies to help tens of thousands of their citizens escape the violence in Lebanon. A small group of medically needy British and western civilians have been evacuated to Cyprus by military helicopter, but the UK says it is not yet a full-scale evacuation.
United Press International is reporting Israel has eased the conditions it requires to suspend military operations and its blockade against Lebanon. PM Ehud Olmert, in a speech to Israel's parliament expressed his determination not to yield to any group that launches missiles into Israeli cities, but signalled that moving Hezbollah away from the Israeli border could bring about a cease-fire. [Full Story]
Israel's attack on Lebanon has escalated, with bombing of Beirut's international airport, the main highway between Beirut and Damascus, at least one power station, several bridges, and a mounting sea blockade. Israel says it holds Lebanon responsible for Hezbollah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers and is acting in self-defense.
The US State Department, through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has called on all sides to refrain from using disproportionate violence and to scale back attacks, but admits the right of Israel to defend itself. Lebanese officials have criticized Israel's PM Ehud Olmert's assigning blame to Lebanon as a whole for the actions of the radical group Hezbollah, saying neither the Lebanese governmenet nor even Hezbollah's political wing have any influence over the military element of the group. [Full Story]
AMNESTY REPORTS INTERNATIONAL ARMS TRADE 'OUT OF CONTROL'
Amnesty International has published a new report examining the international arms trade, and its findings indicate there is little control on the expanding web of private interests seeking to profit from a proliferation of dangerous weapons. The report also illustrates the ways in which this scattering of dangerous weapons has lead to severe human rights abuses. [Full Story]