Israelis renege, resume attacks

Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
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A Lebanese resident slips as he walks through the rubble as he tries to salvage his belongings from his store in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, on Monday.

The Associated Press
METULLA, Israel - As it poured soldiers and artillery shells into southern Lebanon, Israel vowed Monday to press ahead with its war on Hezbollah and made a number of airstrikes after promising a 48-hour pause in its air campaign.
"The fighting continues," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told local leaders. "There is no cease-fire and there will not be any cease-fire in the coming days."
Before leaving Jerusalem, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she believed a cease-fire and U.N. Security Council action on a package were on the immediate horizon. "I am convinced we can achieve both this week," she said.
On her flight to Washington, she appeared a little less assured and aides said the timing had slipped to the end of the week. "I can't tell you when to pack just yet," she told reporters on board. "We're working very hard to make it this week."
Meanwhile, Hezbollah held its fire, with the Israeli army counting only three mortar shells landing in Israel on Monday and no rockets, compared with a record 156 rockets launched on Sunday and about 100 daily before. More than 1 million Israelis are in bomb shelters.
Israel's defense minister, Amir Peretz, told a special session of Parliament that the army "will expand and deepen its operations against Hezbollah." He suggested that the fighting wouldn't stop until a multinational force was ready with a mandate to use its weapons against Hezbollah if the group breached any eventual cease-fire agreement. He said Israel would demand outside supervision for the border crossings between Syria and Lebanon.
Israel said it began a 48-hour suspension of aerial bombardment of Lebanon at 2 a.m. Monday after it aimed at a rocket-launching team in the village of Qana on Sunday and killed dozens of civilians in a nearby building.
Israel promised Rice that it would halt air operations for two days, except to respond to "imminent threats" like rocket-launching teams, and to support ground forces.
Rice said she accepted Israel's explanation for resuming airstrikes barely 12 hours after it announced a suspension.
While bombs did fall across Lebanon on Monday, they came at a slower pace and struck at more limited targets, Israeli officials said.
"It's reduced compared to regular days," said Capt. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli army spokesman, adding that the military was not bombing roads, bridges or other infrastructure that might interfere with civilian movements.
But he said the aerial strikes were aiming at "immediate threats" including rocket launchers and other weapons, as well as providing air support for ground troops. On Monday, Israeli forces hit a Lebanese army vehicle that Israel said it had mistakenly thought was carrying senior Hezbollah commander, killing a Lebanese soldier and wounding three others.
The Israeli air force also attacked and destroyed a truck full of weapons near the Lebanese border with Syria, the Israeli army said.
And the Israelis launched a new ground incursion into Lebanon in the Aita al-Shaab area. Hezbollah said its fighters were resisting the advance.
In an interview with Reuters on Sunday after the Israeli airstrikes on Qana, Khaled Meshal, a Hamas leader based in Damascus, called for "an acceleration of the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine" and asked: "Is there anything left for our people except resistance to protect our women, children, land, and honor in this Zionist-American age?"
Some Lebanese civilians took advantage of the bombing lull to move northward out of southern Lebanon and aid agencies drove convoys of food and medical supplies into the south. Lebanese rescue workers retrieved at least 49 bodies from destroyed buildings, according to the Reuters news agency.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official said that Israel had agreed to the suspension and a 24-hour safe passage for civilians out of southern Lebanon as a way to "take the steam" out of Sunday's bombing in Qana, in which dozens of civilians died. But he also said that the fight against Hezbollah would continue until there is a diplomatic solution that stops the rocket fire against Israel and that deploys an international force on the border that will prevent Hezbollah from remaining nose-to-nose with Israel.
"We couldn't ignore Qana," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, as is customary. "And if we want to continue to get the full ceasefire we want, with an international force, it was important to change the tone and the conversation."
Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said the bombing in Qana was aimed at rocket launchers 300 yards from where the civilians were, a distance commanders considered large enough to avoid the risk of hitting civilians. He said Israel was investigating what had gone wrong in the calculation.
President Bush appeared Monday to back the Israeli position of continuing the war, repeating his administration's insistence that any cessation of hostilities must be "sustainable."
"A multinational force must be dispatched to Lebanon quickly so we can help speed the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Lebanese people," he said in Miami. "Iran must end its financial support and supply of weapons to terrorist groups like Hezbollah. Syria must end its support for terror and respect the sovereignty of Lebanon."
Monday's battles gave a startling demonstration of how far Israel is from creating an effective buffer between northern Israel and Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon; after more than two weeks at war, much of the fighting still took place within sight of the border.
The Israeli leadership has favored air power with guided munitions, which minimizes casualties to its troops but can lead to civilian casualties, as in Qana, when civilians were sheltering in the basement of a building that collapsed after the Israeli strike. The result has been slow progress on the ground and growing international condemnation.
"Israel started this crisis with the most favorable diplomatic position it has ever had in its history and over the course of three weeks the Olmert government has managed to squander that advantage," said Oren of the Shalem Center.
The fighting Monday focused on the villages Taibeh, Al Adeisa and Kafr Kila across the border from Metulla. Israeli military officers said the villages were the source of repeated recent rocket barrages on northern Israel, in particular the town of Kiryat Shimona, which was hit by more than 80 rockets Sunday.
Airstrikes may have slowed over Lebanon, but they continued apace over the Gaza Strip, the other front in this war. Five Palestinians were wounded when Israeli aircraft bombed a house in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City. For days now, Israel has targeted homes in residential areas where it suspects weapons are being stored.
One of the major questions remains the timing of any cease-fire. The sentiment of much of the world, including key members of the Security Council like France and Russia, is that a cease-fire should begin no later than the passage of a Security Council resolution authorizing an international intervention force for southern Lebanon.
But that force may not be on the ground for weeks. Israel, said Olmert, wants a cease-fire only when the international force arrives, so there is no vacuum. An immediate cease-fire with no international presence, the Israelis argue, would allow the rearmament of Hezbollah through the Syrian border and even its reinfiltration to the Israeli border.
"If there's a cease-fire tomorrow and no international presence, how do you prevent the rearming of Hezbollah?" asked a senior Israeli official. "And if you can't control that, how can you move to disarm Hezbollah?"
Israel is asking for more time to hit Hezbollah, and is asking those like the French, who want an immediate cease-fire, to take concrete actions to help create the conditions for a sustainable peace, the official said.
Another senior official said he expected that a Security Council resolution could take a week and be capped by a session with foreign ministers, perhaps next Monday. If a resolution, with an acceptable political package, resulted in a cease-fire, Israeli forces would remain in southern Lebanon until an international force arrived, to prevent a vacuum, he suggested.
In such a cease-fire, to which Hezbollah would have to agree through the Lebanese government, the official said, Israeli forces would only fire if fired upon, or if rockets continued to be launched against Israel.
The Security Council extended the mandate of the U.N. observer force in Lebanon for one month to allow more time to formulate a new peacekeeping force.
Reaction in Israel to the Qana bombing was largely one of sorrow, mixed with determination not to end the fighting too quickly and for what many here consider the wrong reasons.
But the country's most influential columnist, Nahum Barnea, writing in Yediot Aharonot, raised questions about Israeli tactics and leadership. Barnea wrote about the government's decision to allow the army to attack civilian houses if Hezbollah rockets and war materiel were stored inside and the population was warned in advance to leave.
In an interview he said, that the policy, however justified, courted the disaster of Qana, and he objected to Peretz for being "stupid enough to make it seem like a moral statement."
In the newspaper he wrote that Israel had to respond to Hezbollah's attack with military action, but added: "The question is how and at what cost." In particular, he criticized Peretz, the inexperienced defense minister, for describing "proudly how he relieved the army of restrictions on harming civilian population that lives alongside Hezbollah operatives. I can understand accidentally harming civilians in the course of combat. But a blanket directive regarding the entire civilian population of southern Lebanon and the Shiite neighborhoods of Beirut is a hasty and lightheaded act, which courts disaster. We saw the outcome of this yesterday, in the bodies of the women and children that were taken out of the bombed house in Qana."

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