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17 April 1996

Israel's 'Peace', Lebanon's devastation

Thirty one people are dead and over 180 are wounded. Four hundred thousand have been forced to flee their homes in a matter of hours or face the consequences. What is happening in the Lebanon and how did it all start, asks Eve Anderson?

Moshe Raviv, the Israeli ambassador to Britain pointed the finger at Hizbollah, the radical Islamic group in the Lebanon. He accused Hizbollah of 'starting the cycle of violence' and 'destabilising the peace process'. These are serious charges. Let's examine them to see if they are justified.

Hizbollah had been engaged in a guerilla war of resistance to Israel's illegal occupation of southern Lebanon since 1982. Between March 4 and March 30 they had killed eleven Israeli soldiers from the occupation force - all of whom were on Lebanese soil.

The turning point in the escalation of the conflict came on March 30 when Israeli forces shelled villages in southern Lebanon, killing two civilians. In retaliation, Hizbollah fired Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.

Is it the case that Hizbollah is a 'terrorist entity', isolated from the general population and bent on destroying peace, as the Israelis insist? Even the Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, not known for his support for Islamic militancy, has likened Hizbollah to the French resistance in the Second World War, fighting the Nazi occupation. Of the demand that the Lebanese government disarm Hizbollah, he said it was 'as if someone had asked de Gaulle to disarm the resistance'.

Israel maintains that its military actions are 'proportionate' to the threat posed by Hizbollah. This is clearly not true. F16 aircraft with laser-guided missiles are flying hundreds of missions a day. Over 4000 artillery shells have been fired into Lebanese territory. Helicopter gunships are flying raids over Beirut and Lebanese ports are subject to a naval blockade and two power stations have been blown up.

Yesterday, the Israelis demonstrated the meaning of their 'peace' with the Palestinians, by bombing a Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon.

In contrast to the US-backed Israeli Defence Force, Hizbollah's forces consist of just 400 fighters and a support staff of 200 volunteers. Their main weapon of 'terror' is the Katyusha rocket, described as 'obsolete and inaccurate' by one war correspondent. At the most a few hundred Katyushas have made it into northern Israel.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli Prime minister has two aims; to pressurize Syria into destroying Hizbollah and winning the general election on May 29. Everyone knows that Hizbollah cannot be destroyed by aerial bombardment. Instead Peres' aim is to destabilise the Lebanon and cause such a crisis that the Lebanese and Syrian government will be forced to act against Hizbollah themselves.

In the past Syrian and Lebanese forces have, under Israeli prompting, turned upon Palestinian forces with deadly consequences. The massacre of Palestinians in the camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982 and again in 1985 are the precedent for the current strategy. The price of Israeli domination of the middle east then was measured in the thousands of lives lost. In the Lebanon today nearly half a million people have already been displaced. The potential for a bloodbath in the southern Lebanon is real.

And throughout this crisis the governments of the Western world have been unstinting in their support of Israel. All talk of 'humanitarian' foreign policy has been put to one side. Visiting British foreign secretary Michael Portillo put his stamp of approval on an exercise that would be called 'ethnic cleansing' if its victims had been Western allies. Today John Major will tell the Lebanese prime minister that the Western powers will support the Israeli occupation until the Lebanese act against Hizbollah.

In the White House not even a murmur of disapproval was heard when Israeli Defence Forces fired a missile at an ambulance killing the children it was carrying. Speaking in Tokyo, Bill Clinton blamed the fighting on Hizbollah. According to White House staff the Israeli operation is necessary to get Shimon Peres reelected in May, because only Peres can keep the peace process on track. In the Israeli-occupied Lebanon, the 'peace-process' means war.
  • There will be a live chat on latest developments in the Lebanon on Wednesday April 24 at 2200 BST in the Living Marxism chat room.

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