Russia and the UN call for urgent ceasefire in Lebanon

The war in the Middle East has slipped out of the control of the Israeli government. It is difficult to call what happened in the town of Qana, South Lebanon, simply a “tragic mistake”, as the Israelis referred to the death of four UN workers on the 26th July. On this occasion, a highly precise bomb, designed to destroy underground bunkers, which fell onto a three-storey block of flats on the night of the 30th July, killed over 60 civilians, including at least 37 children. During the attack, some of the inhabitants sought cover in a bomb shelter located under the building, but it did not withstand the explosion and collapsed.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert and the Minister of Defense Amir Peretz apologized for what happened. Even the head of the Israeli general headquarters Dan Halutz, known for his unemotional nature, expressed his regret. But is this enough, when the heads of the German and British Ministries of Defense unanimously said that they shuddered in horror when they heard about the tragedy? And Javier Solana, the head external politics and security representative of the European Union, stated that there can be no justification for the bombings in Qana? And the general secretary of the UN Kofi Annan yesterday called for an emergency meeting for the UN Security Council?

The aim of this meeting in itself testifies that an apology is not enough. The international association is demanding that Israel immediately cease all military action. A Russian diplomat in New York informed Vremya Novostej that during the UN Security Council meeting, Moscow completely supported the demand for a ceasefire.

Yesterday, a plan was circulated at the Security Council by the French representative. The president of France Jacques Chirac announced that he was devastated by the death of the children in the Lebanese town and that he hopes to see an end to the war very soon. The emergency meeting of the UN Security Council began with a speech by UN general secretary Kofi Annan, who demanded that the bombardment be judged most severely. “I am shocked that my calls for an immediate ceasefire were ignored,” he stated.

Israel does not consider its military operation to be finished and does not want to end the war. The infrastructure of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has not as yet been destroyed. Ehud Olmert declared that a further 10 or 14 days will be required for this task to be completed. The problem lies in the fact that Israel ’s wish to continue the military operation is backed by the silent approval of the USA.

The State secretary of the USA Condoleezza Rice found out about the Qana tragedy whilst in Israel, on her second visit this month. Having expressed her sympathies for the families of the victims, she said that the time had come for a ceasefire, but she failed to mention the long-awaited word “immediate”. The Arab media, meanwhile, informed that the bomb which killed the children in Qana was produced by America. The Syrian president Bashar Al-Asad referred to the tragedy as state terrorism, behind which he and his Iranian colleague Mahmud Ahmadinezhad perceived the shadow of America.

It is worth mentioning that a resolution project calling for ceasefire was already considered by the UN Security Council on the 14th June, however, at that time it was vetoed by the USA. American representative John Bolton then announced before the UN that the document was not balanced or well-timed. In two weeks, the project was completed. The liberation of Israeli soldiers captured by terrorists and the disarming of Hezbollah are mentioned in it, as well as the prospect of sending peacemaking troops of up to 30 thousand men to the Israeli-Lebaneseborder.

According to Vremya Novosti, the question for dispute where Israel is concerned is the need to remove Israeli troops from the territory known as Shebaa Farms. This is an area on the Western slopes of Mount Hermon, at the junction between Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Israel’s Minister of Defense Amir Peretz declared yesterday at a government meeting that this conflictive territory will not be included in any agreement concerning a ceasefire in the South of Lebanon.

These heights do not represent any sort of strategic interest. However Israel assumes that after their troops are removed, this territory will be occupied by Hezbollah terrorists who, in collaboration with Syria, will continue to attack Israel. In addition, the UN did not determine whose territory this should be considered, Lebanon ’s or Syria ’s, a part of the territory (the Golan Heights ) which remains under Israeli occupation.

Nevertheless, this time, there is a chance that the resolution will be accepted. But will this mean the end of the war? The important thing will be the date that the USA assigns for the end. Will they allow Israel more time? If so, then the consequences could be even more terrible. If time is limited, Israel could sharply increase the intensiveness of air strikes over Lebanon in the remaining days. Yesterday, Ehud Olmert informed that he intends to begin truce negotiations only when the aims determined before the start of the operation are fulfilled. He blamed the death of civilians on Hezbollah, who the Israelis claim fired missiles into the North of Israel from the town of Qana itself. “ Israel ’s military operation against Lebanon will remain legal whilst the Israeli territory continues to suffer missile attacks. Even if the UN Security Council demands a ceasefire, Israel will answer each attack on Israeli territory with further bombing,” explained Moshe Marzuk, an official from the Israeli institute for the war against terrorism in Herzlia, to Vremya Novostej.

But such explanations no longer satisfy Russia, the UN or many other international mediators. The tragedy in Qana was unprecedented in size even for the Middle East, said the head of the Duma Committee for International Affairs Konstantin Kosachev in his assessment of the situation. In his opinion, Israel is responsible for the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East.

Aside from the number of civilian and military victims, this war is threatening to become an ecological catastrophe for the countries at war and neighboring ones. According to data from Lebanon ’s Ministry of Ecology, ten thousand tons of oil from the Jie oil reservoir located 30 kilometers south of Beirut, which was bombed by the Israeli air force, has flowed into the Mediterranean Sea. Another 15 thousand tons may flow into the sea in the next few days. The oil pollution that now lies on the surface of the sea covers an area 70 to 80 kilometers long. This represents a threat to the health of the population of nearby towns and villages and maritime flora and fauna, and the tourist industry is under threat of massive loss.

Israel is experiencing its own ecological catastrophe. Since the beginning of the war in the north of the country, approximately half a million trees have been burnt down, including some rare species. Eucalyptus forests, planted in the Hula valley at the end of the 19th to dry out the marshes Century, have been completely destroyed. At least 30 years will be required for them to recover from the damage, which already exceeds 15 million shekel (approximately 3.5 million dollars).

Translated by Leila Wilmers

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Author`s name Alex Naumov