Despite world outcry, Israel launches ground attack on Lebanon

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Only days after an Israeli bomb smashed into a residential building in the southern Lebanon village of Qana, killing at least 62 civilians, 35 of them children — and provoking worldwide shock, horror and outrage — the Israeli government brusquely rejected worldwide calls for an immediate cease-fire.

Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with the full backing of the Bush administration, swiftly broke his pledge to stop bombing for 48 hours and sent up to 7,000 ground troops, backed with air cover, tanks and armored bulldozers, deeper into southern Lebanon on Aug. 1. An Israeli major-general said they could be there for months.

“If the military campaign would have ended today,” Olmert told graduates at a military school, “we could already say with certainty that the face of the Middle East has changed following the great achievement of the Israeli army and Israeli people.”

Mohamed Shalhoub, 38, a survivor of the July 30 Qana massacre, no doubt had a different perspective. When the Israeli missile hit, “I felt like I was turning around, and the earth was going up and I was going into the earth,” he told a reporter from The New York Times.

Shalhoub looked stunned, the reporter said, and with good reason: he lost his mother, wife, their five children and a nephew in the attack. All had sought refuge in the building from the Israeli bombing campaign.

As word of the most recent atrocity spread, Israeli officials tried to deflect the rising fury by suggesting the building had been a Hezbollah munitions depot, or that Hezbollah militants had been launching rockets nearby. They later admitted both claims were untrue.

The Washington Post said nearby bomb fragments suggested the bombs had been manufactured in the U.S.

Hours after the Qana outrage, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a U.S. ally, told Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, to stay away until she could produce an immediate cease-fire. Rice abruptly cancelled her plans to visit Beirut.

At the United Nations, the U.S., Britain and Israel remained alone in their opposition to an immediate and unconditional cease-fire. Ireland blocked the use of its airports for shipments of U.S. bombs to Israel.

Twenty days into the conflict, Lebanese sources reported over 750 Lebanese dead, over 3,000 injured and more than 750,000 turned into refugees. Relief efforts, they said, have been impeded by the Israeli military.

Large swaths of the country, including towns like Bint Jbail, have been reduced to rubble by the bombing, and several areas near oil depots have been turned into environmental catastrophes.

Israeli authorities said 54 Israelis had been killed since the start of the conflict, 19 of them civilians. Hezbollah rockets continued to hit Israel, sometimes over 100 a day.

Despite the overwhelming superiority of Israel’s firepower, Israeli troops have run up against a growing popular resistance movement, including but not limited to Hezbollah.

The mounting death toll has spurred calls within Israel for an end to the bombing of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and a withdrawal of all Israeli troops.

Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group, cited a story in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot about 32-year-old Reserve Captain Amir Fester who went to prison last week rather than obey orders to enter Lebanon.

“He is not of the radical left, but in the last few days has been feeling more and more that the war is not justified,” his girlfriend Nitzan Lahav told the reporter. “The more the war continued he was increasingly troubled. In the beginning we, like everybody, supported the war, but we came to the conclusion that within two weeks there will anyway be an agreement with the Lebanese. So why not stop it now and end the killings?”

Opposition to Israel’s actions was also evident among Jewish communities in the United States. In the July 31 edition of The New York Times, under the headline “Stop the slaughter in Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Territories,” a group of about 30 prominent academic, religious and political figures, joined by 2,500 others, signed a full-age ad sponsored by Tikkun, a Jewish magazine. It called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a negotiated political solution.

Fissures were also evident in the U.S. Congress. In addition to last week’s resolution introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) calling for an immediate cease-fire, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) introduced H Res 945, calling for much the same and “a comprehensive and just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

In an Aug. 1 statement, the Lebanese Communist Party said the scale of Israeli assault pointed to the presence of a long-term, U.S.-designed plan to advance Washington’s conception of a “New Middle East,” which “the United States has been working to bring about since it began its invasion of Iraq.” Syria and Iran are also targets of the plan, it said.

The LCP called for an immediate cease-fire and appealed for worldwide solidarity. It urged national unity in the fight to expel Israel from Lebanese territory, including from the Shebaa Farms area occupied by Israel since 1981.