The UN general secretary, Kofi Annan accused the Israeli military of carrying out an apparently intentional bombing of the UN base on the Lebanon-Israel border that culminated in the killing of four unarmed monitors. Mr Annan initially stated that he was advised that the air strike was "apparently deliberate" but he now accepted that the bombing was a mistake. However, it is worth putting this "mistake" into context.
- The post was not constructed recently, it has been there for years
- the first bomb exploded around 200 metres from the post at 1.20pm. Unifil observers then telephoned their designated contact with the Israeli military, who assured them the attacks would stop.
- over the next few hours, six more bombs fell close to the post. Each time, they called the Israeli military to advise their position and were promised that the attacks would stop.
- The main Unifil base in the town of Naqoura lost contact with the post at 7.40pm when the post was obliterated in a direct hit.
- UN officials confirmed that the attacks on the UN bunker continued during a rescue effort.
The Security Council expressed "distress" but no condemnation because the US consistently blocked the criticism of Israel - as usual. Neither China, which lost one of its citizens in the bombing, nor Russia, which has demanded a "central role" for the UN in the crisis, were able to shift Washington, and our government (UK) didn´t even try.
Dan Gillerman (Israeli Ambassador to the UN) , described Mr Annan's comments as "premature and erroneous". However, given the events leading up to the bombing of the base with a "precision weapon" it is a reasonable conclusion. The only other conclusion is that it was an accident which clearly demonstrates that the Israeli forces do not check their targets before launching their bombs and are making absolutely no effort to avoid civilian casualties. This has now led to the UN withdrawing observers out of the border zone for their own protection. Call me paranoid, but that may be exactly why the UN post was bombed.
The Israeli government has argued at length that they have taken all reasonable steps to avoid unnecessary suffering for the Lebanese people. They thoughtfully dropped leaflets in Lebanon warning people to leave their homes so that they could bomb them (remaining in the Lebanon is presumably proof that you are a terrorist). Of course, they have blocked the routes out of the country, bombed the convoys of people trying to leave and blocked access for relief convoys. Again we are told that this is because Hezbollah were using the civilians as cover to move munitions. This may well be true but it highlights the central problem.
Israel has intentionally started a war in which they knew that they could do virtually nothing to guarantee the safety of civilians, and which they knew could not achieve its stated aim - the destruction of Hezbollah. They are crippling the Lebanon and providing ample reason for thousands of Lebanese (and others) to take up arms against Israel. Yet, bombing is apparently not damaging enough, so tanks are rolling into the country. Thus Syria, whose troops only left the Lebanon because it was argued that they had no mandate to defend the Lebanon against Israel now have the perfect excuse to get involved again.
Israeli troops have successfully killed a few of their enemies and destroyed some of their buildings, but in the process have already killed an estimated 600 civilians and destroyed the homes of thousands. This is in retaliation to the actions of a group that they know are beyond the control of the Lebanese government and people and is not even confined to the Lebanon. Thus, those doing the dying have no power to accede to their attackers demands. George Bush helpfully quipped that "they" should just stop Hezbollah from firing on Israel and there would be no more problem.
Philippe Douste-Blazy, France´s foreign minister, warned that inaction only made the situation worse because "It would not just be between Israel and Hezbollah but also increasingly between Israel and Arab countries and increasingly between the west and the Muslim world." Kofi Annan appealed in vain for the participants to concentrate on a temporary cessation of hostilities so that humanitarian assistance could be provided and all of the other participants agreed - except for two notable exceptions. Condoleezza Rice (the US secretary of state) refused to call for a ceasefire and only Margaret Beckett (UK foreign secretary) supported her. Apparently US official claimed "Whether we call (a ceasefire) immediate or urgent is semantics. We walked out of that room with the same sense of urgency."
Urgency? The summit ended in abject failure. They managed to issue a vague statement in support of an international peace keeping force, but did not agree anything in detail. So nothing at all happens until the diplomats meet in New York sometime next week, when they will probably disagree all over again. Clearly, my definition of urgency is not the same as that of the US governments. Perhaps they should be honest and admit that they want to give the Israelis longer to try and destroy Hezbollah and are not really that bothered if the Lebanon is reduced to rubble. As the Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, noted "The more we delay the ceasefire, the more we are going to witness more being killed, more destruction and more aggression against the civilians in Lebanon....The country is being cut to pieces." Meanwhile, an Israeli cabinet minister confirmed that the lack of consensus on a ceasefire gave Israel "permission from the world" to invade the Lebanon.
Rice also claimed "The question is whether Syria intends to exercise these obligations in such a way that it leads to a fully sovereign Lebanon,". So it is up to Syria to sort out the mess? Yet it is on the insistence of the US that they were not invited to the summit (against the wishes of Kofi Annan, and many of the other delegates).
The US refuses to speak to Syria or Iran because they are arming Hezbollah. Of course Rice made no reference to the allegations that Prestwick airport in Scotland was used by US planes to transporting "bunker-busting" bombs to Israel last weekend. Beckett glibly commented "We will be making a formal protest if it appears that that is what has happened." I bet the US is quaking in its boots at the thought of the lap dog that is the UK yapping in protest as they arm one side of the conflict while they stall the ceasefire to allow their allies to continue the destruction. Incidentally, Beckett confirmed that the only reason she was annoyed was because the US did not do the correct paper-work. She has no problem in principle with helping to arm Israel with devastating weapons as they fire on civilian areas.
France have drafted a different resolution calling for an "immediate halt to the violence", "a handover of prisoners to a third party enjoying the trust of the two belligerents", and the deployment of an international force in support of the Lebanese army. They also suggested a buffer zone should straddle the Israel-Lebanon border - so the US will never support it and Blair is bound to follow his master.
Tony Blair has promised to press George Bush today to support "as a matter of urgency". So we can expect hostilities to continue for some time.