Southern Lebanon on brink of war

Civilians in line of fire as Hizbollah and Israelis step up hostilities

Just 16 months after Israel's bloody "Grapes of Wrath" operation left almost 200 Lebanese civilians dead, history is repeating itself in southern Lebanon. Lebanese civilians are cut to pieces by Israeli shells or blown up by bombs - for which the Israelis and Hizbollah guerrillas blame each other - while pro-Israeli militiamen and Hizbollah members die almost daily. Israel yesterday promised to revenge Hizbollah "terror" after two rockets - which Hizbollah say they never fired - exploded over the Israeli border, slightly wounding an Israeli woman. This is how it all began last time.

The horror of another war in southern Lebanon is thus matched only by its predictability - and, as usual, the rhetoric was coming yesterday almost as fast as the shellfire. Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah leader, and Moshe Fogel, the Israeli government spokesman, were roaring like lions in Beirut and Jerusalem - far enough from the battlefield to know that they were unlikely to be among the casualties - each vowing to strike back at the other for their respective attacks on civilians.

With equal predictability, radio and television coverage focused on the two Katyushas which hit Israel as the "start" of a new crisis - ignoring the fact that the crisis has been building over the past month with a series of Lebanese deaths, most of whom were civilians.

Sayed Nasrallah's remarks at a press conference in Beirut were not likely to dispel the pessimism. The south Lebanon cease-fire - backed by a five- power truce committee - was no longer protecting civilians, he said. "We say that returning to use other means to protect civilians has become necessary - what remains is the right timing and wisdom to safeguard civilians." But he did not say if these "other means" meant further Katyusha attacks on Israel, and denied that the two missiles fired yesterday morning came from the Hizbollah. When his organisation used missiles, he said, they claimed them. "We're not the kind who launch rockets at night and hide in the morning."

The Israelis reported that a synagogue was damaged by one of the rockets - which may have been fired by Palestinians - and that the injured Israeli woman had been hit by pieces of glass. In fact, over the past 12 months, civilian deaths - at least 20 have been recorded - have been entirely confined to Lebanese, most of them killed by Israel or its "South Lebanon Army" militia allies, although the mother and her two children killed by a bomb at Merkaba on Thursday may well have been the victims of a Hizbollah booby-trap aimed at the Israelis.

There might be some reason to hope for an end to hostilities if the Syrian- Israeli-Lebanese-American-French cease-fire committee - which is to meet again tomorrow - was taken more seriously.

At the most recent session, however, the Lebanese delegate spent some time arguing that the Israelis were "trivialising" the committee by raising minor incidents, while his Israeli opposite number spent an equal amount of time complaining that the Lebanese delegate was trying to "show off" to the new chairmen of the committee. This, needless to say, is not the stuff of which peace is made.

It is not difficult to find reasons for the frustration of both sides. In the occupation zone, the Israelis - losing soldiers weekly to Hizbollah attacks while their "SLA" allies are deserting or passing information to the Hizbollah - are holding a militarily untenable area with little purpose or future.

The occupation zone cannot stop rocket attacks on Israel - as the April 1996 war proved all too vividly - but cannot be abandoned without loss of face by a right-wing Likud government. The Hizbollah, after the killing of five of their men - including their head of guerrilla operations for Nabatea - by Israeli booby-trap bombs this week, have sworn to retaliate.

Civilian casualties have been treated with the deepest cynicism. When Israeli planes bombed a hill in southern Lebanon this week, killing two farmers, the Israeli military spokesman claimed "accurate hits" on "terrorist targets."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Quality Control Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing company is a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultants - Liverpool

£27300 - £36400 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Self-employed B2B Sales Consult...

Recruitment Genius: ASP.NET Developer / Programmer - SQL, MVC, C#

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This distributor and wholesaler...

Recruitment Genius: 2nd Line IT Support Technician

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn