Global Trends by Martin
Monday 21 August
Fighting stops, problems remain
The Middle East crisis
seemed to ease a bit last week, when fighting in Lebanon stopped several
days after the UN Security Council resolution. But the Israeli blockade
of Lebanon continues, and disagreements emerged on the nature and role
of the UN peacekeeping force. Meanwhile, the plight of the Palestinians
At last the fighting in Lebanon
has stopped, at least for the time being. Several days after the United
Nations Security Council resolution of 11 August, Israel stopped its
bombing raids in Lebanon, and began pulling its ground soldiers out.
By last Friday, the UN team
in Lebanon was reporting that the ceasefire was “holding out”.
According to news reports,
the Israeli army took a heavy beating early last week when it poured
thousands of troops into Lebanon in one last big attack on the country,
even after the Security Council resolution was adopted.
The Independent of London
reported that up to 40 Israeli soldiers were killed by the Hizbollah
in one day, something that was not widely publicized.
The Hizbollah continued winning
the public relations war, as the Arab public seems to consider that
it defied and won out against the Israeli war machine. Its handing
out compensation of US$12,000 to each Lebanese family whose home was
destroyed by Israeli air strikes earned more support from the Lebanese
Meanwhile, the rehabilitation
and reconstruction of Lebanon are yet to start and it will take time
and lots of money. Whether the country will get the many billions of
dollars of aid needed to rebuild the bombed houses, buildings, roads,
bridges and factories is doubtful.
If the Israeli bombing on
Lebanon breaks various international laws, as the UN Human Rights Council
and several other organizations have declared, then Lebanon should take
a case against Israel to pay for the reconstruction.
Ironically, pro-Israel advocates
were first off the mark: they launched a petition calling on the UN
to provide reparations to Israel for damage caused by Hezbollah. As
one critic remarked: “This is the limit, that they have the gall to
ask for reparations after the blanket bombing of Lebanon!”
The UN is now trying achieve
the enlargement of its peacekeeping force in Lebanon, in keeping with
the Security Council resolution. Israel has objected to a few countries,
including Malaysia, contributing to the UN force, on the ground that
these countries do not have diplomatic relations with it.
Malaysian Foreign Minister
Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar rebutted that Israel has no right to stop
Malaysian troops from joining the force as it was up to the UN and Lebanon
to decide. “We are going there to protect Lebanon, we are not going
to Israel,” he said.
This interpretation was supported
by UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown last Friday when he
appealed to European countries to provide troops to the UN Interim Force
in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
He told reporters that "enormously
helpful" offers had emerged from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh
and Nepal, but it was vital for UNIFIL to have a strong European as
well as Muslim content.
A key point of contention arising out of the Security Council resolution,
which will figure very largely in future developments, is the fate of
the Hezbollah forces.
Israel, backed by the United
States and other Western countries, want Hezbollah to be disarmed.
But Hezbollah itself is opposed to this, and it appears the Lebanon
government is also opposed.
There is no guarantee that
Israel will not attack Lebanon again, and the Lebanese feel they will
not have a credible defence if Hezbollah were to be disarmed.
Though its bombing has stopped,
Israel has continued its naval and air blockade of Lebanon. A senior
UN relief official has called for this blockade to be lifted immediately
to allow urgent assistance to reach hundreds of thousands of Lebanese
who are returning to their homes.
Margareta Wahlström told
the Security Council that the end of the fighting has allowed some access
for aid to reach many affected areas, but the damage inflicted on road
networks was making things very difficult.
“The enormous damage to most
road and bridge infrastructure leading to the south requires an immediate
lift of the continuing sea and air blockade on Lebanon” she said, also
warning that the 400,000 returnees are facing the threat of unexploded
artillery, airborne missiles, and cluster ammunition.
“Reports of civilian casualties
have been reported. The contamination presents a risk to people
returning to their homes."
Meanwhile the Lebanese crisis
has diverted attention away from the increased plight of the Palestinians,
who have continued to suffer heavy Israeli bombardment in Gaza during
the period of the war with Lebanon and even now, after that war.
Many Palestinian civilians
have been killed and displaced from their homes in the past month as
Israeli forces intensified their attacks on the occupied Palestinian
Also, the UN relief agency
for Palestinian refugees reported that hundreds of containers full of
food for Palestinians in Gaza are still being held up in the Israeli
port of Ashdod because of a backlog caused by the recent conflict in
Now that the fighting in
Lebanon has stopped, action should be focused on resolving the Palestinian
problem, which must occupy top priority on the international agenda.
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