Leading article: Qana: the guilty must be punished

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The Independent Online
When it was first claimed at the United Nations that the Israelis had deliberately shelled the UN compound at Qana in Lebanon, it seemed almost unbelievable. Yet the UN's investigation into the incident and the accumulation of evidence since backs up the claim. It seems increasingly probable that the Israeli defence forces knew of the presence of refugees in the camp, knew where their shells were landing, and knew that innocent people were being killed. This is not the same as "collateral damage", that much-abused phrase to describe the death of the innocent in the pursuit of the guilty.

The UN report on the incident is also thought to conclude that Hizbollah members had been using the camp as a refuge, after they had set off rockets aimed at Israeli soldiers. Israel may say that there were guerrillas in the camp, and that it was them, not the civilians who where the target. But more than 100 civilians died when the shells exploded over the compound. Far from seeking to avoid this, the Israeli army seems to have calculated that it was an acceptable loss. That typifies the cynical logic that guided Operation Grapes of Wrath from start to finish.

Israel's most recent assault on Lebanon has invited an incident of this kind from the start, and the 100 who died at Qana are by no means the only innocent civilian casualties of the exercise. By relying on bombardment from artillery, gunboats and aircraft, and abstaining from the commitment of ground troops, Israel left itself with only the bluntest of weapons. Hizbollah is a guerrilla organisation and cannot be targeted in the same way as the infrastructure of a state.

The incident has ramifications far beyond Lebanon, beyond the Middle East. The United Nations is being taken for a fool again, treated as a dupe. Just as, in Bosnia, the idea of "safe havens" came to be nothing more than a bitter joke, so in Lebanon the UN's humanitarian mission has been mocked in a deadly and cynical way. The concept that the UN can provide shelter for refugees is an important one. It should not be the target of artillery attack. The UN report on the incident must be published, even if it is embarrassing for Israel and the United Nations.

Heads must roll. Someone at a high level in the Israeli military was responsible for this operation, and to show that it is serious about responding to this incident, the Israeli government must find out who and remove him.

That, in itself, is not sufficient. The Qana massacre results directly from a much bigger problem, that of the Israeli attitude towards Lebanon. Israel has the right to defend itself, but that is not the same thing as treating Lebanon as an artillery range, or as a place to prove the virility of the Peres government.

The killings at Qana, indeed the Israeli assault upon Lebanon, have solved nothing. In an interview with the Independent on Sunday, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah's leader, has committed the organisation to further attacks on Israeli targets. The "peace" that was reached is in effect little more than a code of conduct for an ongoing and bloody war. Hizbollah's rocket attacks on Israeli civilians are, of course, unacceptable; but until Israel accepts UN resolution 425 and withdraws from Lebanon, no lasting peace is possible.