Global Trends by Martin
17 July 2006
Mid-East crisis going out of control
Last week’s escalation
actions from Gaza to Lebanon shows a crisis in the Middle East spiraling
out of control. Even as there is wide condemnation of Israel’s attacks
as a “disproportionate response” to the capture of its soldiers, the
public is frustrated by the lack of action by the Quartet or the UN.
Analysts point to the failure of all the “peace plans” on the table.
The situation in the Middle
East seems to be spiraling out of control as Israel last week widened
its military actions from Gaza by laying a siege on Lebanon and bombing
Beirut and many other parts of that country.
The Israeli attacks on Gaza
had been sparked by the capture by Hamas-related personnel of an Israeli
soldier. Its counter actions have been condemned by many as being out
of all proportions.
These actions include the
bombing of infrastructure, destruction of the offices of the Palestinian
Prime Minister, the Foreign Ministry and Economy Ministry and parliament,
the killing of many civilians, assassinations and the detention of many
people, including Palestinian Ministers and parliamentarians.
Last week, Hezbollah, operating
from its base in Southern Lebanon, crossed into Israel, captured two
Israeli soldiers and killed several more, and launched rocket attacks
on some northern Israeli cities.
Israel’s counter actions,
including many days of bombardment on Lebanese cities and infrastructure
including Beirut airport, killing over 70 people by Saturday, were also
attacked widely as being disproportionate.
“We fear a downward spiral
to a totally uncontrollable situation,” said Jan Egeland, the coordinator
of United Nations Emergency Relief, adding that the Gaza and Lebanon
situation “has never been worse in this past decade as it has been in
the past few days.”
Speaking in Geneva on 14
July, Egeland said that Israel’s disproportionate response had led to
the evolving Gaza crisis.
The UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights Louise Arbour reiterated Secretary General Kofi Annan’s
condemnation of all actions that target civilians or which endanger
them due to their disproportionate or indiscriminate character.
She noted that while Israel
has legitimate security concerns, international humanitarian law requires
that parties to a conflict refrain from attacks directed against civilians.
They have an obligation to exercise precaution and respect the proportionality
principle in all military operations so as to prevent civilian suffering.
The UN official also called
on those detaining the Israeli soldiers to release them, and for rocket
attacks on Israel to stop.
At the UN Security Council
in New York, the Lebanese Foreign Minister called for international
action to end the Israeli aggression against it. “I need not tell you
who the aggressor and who the victim is.”
But Israel’s ambassador actually
said that its military actions were for the good of Lebanon, and that
the Lebanese Minister would in his heart admit it!
With only meetings and words
but no international action, the civilians in Gaza and in parts of Lebanon
continue to endure days of bombardment, with loss of lives, houses and
electricity, and increasing scarcity of food and water.
There is a deafening silence
and loud inaction from the Quartet – comprising the United States, European
Union, Russia and the UN – although this is the body that is supposed
to be oversee a Road Map for peace.
Instead, it was an international
women’s commission for a just and sustainable Palestinian-Israeli peace,
comprising Palestinian, Israeli and other women, that held an emergency
meeting and called on the Quartet to act.
The commission, set up in
2005 under the auspices of the UNIFEM (a UN agency) Development Fund
for Women, urged the Quartet to “dispatch high-level special envoys
to mediate a truce and exchange of prisoners, and to lead the parties
back to political negotiations that address the root issues of the conflict.”
It said: “Civilians, mainly
women and children, are paying the price daily for this vicious cycle
of retaliation and counter-retaliation,” said the Commission in a statement.
“If no action is taken today, tomorrow will be too late.
According to Phyllis Bennis,
an expert at the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, the Israeli
attacks in the Gaza Strip constitute collective punishment of the entire
Gazan population, and they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention which
prohibits an occupying power from collective punishments, targeted assassinations
and infrastructure destruction in an occupied territory.
The silence from the Bush
administration has been key, according to Bennis, who cites a July 12
Israeli government communiqué saying that the low-key international
response is “allowing Israel military freedom of action.”
Concludes Bennis: “The escalation
in Gaza reflects the failure of Israeli unilateralism, the failure of
the Quartet’s “roadmap”, the failure of US-orchestrated exclusion of
the UN, the failure of the international community to end the occupation,
and the failure of the UN to intervene and provide international protection
in the meanwhile.”
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