Cease-fire greeted warily in Lebanon

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News Analysis

Writing from Lebanon’s capital on the eve of the UN Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 1701, which calls for a cessation of hostilities in Lebanon and Israel, Judith Le Blanc, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, told friends and co-workers, “On day 29 of the war, Beirut is a blend of many realities.

“The facts are that 1,000 have died, over 3,000 have been injured,” she said. “Most are children. Whole villages and sections of cities have been evacuated, and life continues.”

Within earshot of exploding Israeli bombs, Le Blanc continued, “Every night there are new bombings of apartment buildings in Beirut and homes in southern Lebanon. Tyre has been blockaded and every major highway has been bombed. The United Nations says their humanitarian aid programs are paralyzed now.”

On the day the cease-fire resolution was adopted, Israel continued to bomb throughout Lebanon, killing more civilians and destroying more buildings, bridges, roads, factories and other infrastructure. Nearly a million Lebanese have become refugees.

Israel also rushed thousands of additional troops deeper into southern Lebanon to gain a stronger foothold there, pending the arrival of Lebanese regular army troops and a strengthened detachment of UN peacekeeping forces, which the resolution calls for.

In a deal with the Bush administration, the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz was given additional days before Aug. 13, the day the cease-fire was to take effect, to bomb Lebanon and to attack Hezbollah and others who have resisted the Israeli invasion.

But it continued to be rough going for Israeli ground troops. In fact, up to the official cessation of hostilities, Lebanese resistance fighters continued to inflict heavy casualties on the Israeli army, killing at least 39 soldiers in one day and shooting down a U.S.-made Apache helicopter gunship.

Uri Avnery, an Israeli military veteran and a leading figure in Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group, remarked, “On the 32nd day of the war, Hezbollah is still standing and fighting. That by itself is a stunning feat: a small guerilla organization, with a few thousand fighters, is standing up to one of the strongest armies in the world and has not been broken after a month of ‘pulverizing.’”

On the day before the cease-fire, Hezbollah sent over 200 rockets into Israel. The rockets stopped the next day.

The conflict has left at least 110 Israeli soldiers and 41 civilians dead.

Israel’s rising casualties and its U.S.-equipped military’s inability to crush the Lebanese resistance forces led to splits within the Olmert-Peretz government and gave rise to charges of ineptitude and mismanagement of the war. It also led to the UN resolution, said the Lebanese Communist Party.

“It is demonstrable,” the LCP wrote on Aug. 12, “that an agreement on this resolution would not have been achieved if all the means available to Israel to change the reality on the battlefield had not been exhausted,” and had there not been mounting diplomatic pressure.

The worldwide outcry over the bombing of Lebanese civilians left the U.S., Britain and Israel virtually isolated in their opposition to a cease-fire.

An unidentified senior Bush administration official told The New York Times that, as it became increasing clear that Israel would not be able to achieve a military victory, the U.S. got behind the cease-fire resolution.

At the same time, the LCP cautioned that “there are many landmines strewn about the ‘field’ of this resolution,” which falls short of the Lebanese government’s seven key demands. These include the speedy withdrawal of Israel’s forces to its 1978 boundary with Lebanon, the release of Lebanese political prisoners, and a process for returning the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms.

The LCP noted with concern that the resolution specifically excludes holding Israel accountable for its crimes against humanity in Lebanon, and it leaves the door open for more Israeli military action under the guise of conducting “defensive operations.”

However, the party said, it is now clear that Lebanon “will not be made into a launching pad for the ‘New Middle East,’” i.e. it will not allow itself to be used as a gateway for a U.S.-Israeli plan to strike at Syria and Iran and to otherwise dominate the region.

“The people and resistance of Lebanon have displayed their mighty steel will,” it said, adding that the party’s central task now is to strengthen national unity and confront any additional U.S.-Israeli schemes.

Meanwhile, Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continued without let-up.