Leading article: Isolation of the south achieves no end

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The Independent Online

It is now clear that a key part of the Israeli military strategy in this crisis is to cut off southern Lebanon from the rest of the country. But shutting off access to the south is also making the already dire humanitarian situation in that region even worse.

United Nations officials are warning of a rapidly deteriorating aid situation in southern Lebanon as a result of its isolation. An aid convoy had to be abandoned yesterday. But supplies on the ground have never been more urgently needed. Food is scarce. Refugees lack the gas and appliances to cook. And all the while rubbish is piling up on the streets, heightening the risk of disease.

The Israeli military has so far turned a blind eye to such suffering. United Nations peacekeepers in south Lebanon are ready to repair a crossing over the Litani river, but are, understandably, waiting for Israeli guarantees that they will not be targeted if they do so. Such assurances have not been forthcoming. The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, yesterday maintained that Israel is trying to co-ordinate aid efforts in the south in partnership with the international community, but admitted that the military finds it impossible to differentiate between lorries carrying aid and those carrying weapons.

The result seems to be that everything is bombed, just to make sure. Israeli planes have been dropping leaflets on Tyre, the largest city in the south, warning residents that if they travel in vehicles they will become targets. But how else is it possible to distribute aid and medical supplies?

The isolation of the south further undermines Israel's moral standing in this war. As does the continued suffering of the children of Lebanon, as highlighted by The Independent's appeal in partnership with Save the Children. The Israeli government's strategy is a sign of growing frustration that its operations have not stopped Hizbollah rockets hitting the towns of northern Israel. But there is no indication that isolation of the south will deliver Israel's military objectives. And the more suffering the Israeli forces inflict on the Lebanese population, the more Lebanese solidarity with Hizbollah is bolstered.

It is time for this crisis to be brought to a swift end. Hizbollah should indeed be disarmed, as the Israeli government demands. But it is increasingly clear that Israel cannot accomplish this through bombing. Its best hope of achieving such an outcome lies in a diplomatic solution and the withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon. A humanitarian disaster on Israel's northern border will be as grave a threat to Israel's future security as the rockets of Hizbollah.