US heaps blame on the victim, say Lebanese

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The Independent Online

In Lebanon yesterday, it was the same old story. The Israelis were absolved by Washington for their attack on three civilian power stations because it was "a reaction to the deaths... of Israeli soldiers", while the Hizbollah claimed victory because Israel was no longer bombing Lebanon.

In Lebanon yesterday, it was the same old story. The Israelis were absolved by Washington for their attack on three civilian power stations because it was "a reaction to the deaths... of Israeli soldiers", while the Hizbollah claimed victory because Israel was no longer bombing Lebanon.

There was no mention by President Bill Clinton that the six Israeli soldiers were killed by guerrillas inside Lebanon - not in Israel - and no suggestion by the Hizbollah that the April 1996 South Lebanon ceasefire accord, which it insists on obeying, is already a dead letter.

It is extraordinary, then, that save for the usual Israeli air raids in the lower Bekaa valley yesterday morning, the war in Lebanon was frozen.

The five-power ceasefire committee, which is made up of the United States, France, Syria, Israel and Lebanon, was to meet this morning to adjudicate on the violence of the past week; it will have to decide who broke the rules of engagement which allow Israelis and Hizbollah to attack each other inside Lebanon provided they do not target civilians at the same time.

Since the six dead Israeli soldiers are clearly military targets and power stations are not, the talks - in the United Nations' headquarters at Naqqoura on the Israeli border - should be an intriguing event. Two days ago, Israel announced itself no longer bound by the protocol and then, when it feared a retaliation by Hizbollah rockets over the border, said that it wished once more to abide by the agreement.

US officials have been telephoning Damascus and Jerusalem to ensure that the meeting starts on time and that both sides hold their fire to allow the "truce" - always a notional phenomenon in southern Lebanon - to be re-imposed.

Israel's threat to "burn the soil of Lebanon" if the Hizbollah fired across the frontier does not change the fact that the guerrillas chose from the start to avoid any such tactic. "We have no intention whatsoever of changing a single word of the 1996 accord despite the enemy's attempts to modify its interpretation," a member of the Hizbollah's politburo, Mohamed Raad, announced. "The resistance movement will stick to the letter of the April Understanding."

The Lebanese press used up many of its pages yesterday to condemn the United States for its response to the bombing.

The Washington correspondent for the daily newspaper An Nahar, Wafik Ramadan, wrote that the United States government had, as usual, chosen to blame "the victim rather than the executioner".

A cartoon in the Saudi-owned Shark el-Awsat newspaper showed a cluster of western television reporters filming the unharmed Israeli civilians sheltering in their unbombed bomb shelters in northern Israel while behind their backs - without a camera to film them - lie the 17 Lebanese civilians wounded by Israel's bombing of the power plants.

Both France and Iran are sending electrical technicians to find out what assistance their governments can give in restoring the Lebanese national grid, while Prince Walid bin Talal, the Saudi billionaire, has offered £3m to help in the £30m repair of the three switching stations that were destroyed by the Israelis.

After the bombing of the Jamhour power station last summer, which was attacked again this week, the Saudi prince gave £5m for their reconstruction along with £7,000 for every family who lost a relative in the explosions.

In the streets of Beirut, meanwhile, the few shopkeepers who maintained their private generators after the end of the civil war have been making a killing. Renting a single line costs up to £60 a week. The rich will have light, it seems, and the poor darkness.

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