LETTER : `Grapes of Wrath': Lebanon pays the price for Israel's securit y fears

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The Independent Online
Sir: Israel's escalating bombardment of Lebanon, with its expansion of the conflict far beyond the border area, is both the gravest menace to regional stability since Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait and could sound the death-knell for any hope of a comprehensive peace.

But as in 1993 the general international response, including that of the British government, seems predisposed to legitimise the Israeli position. Here we have a defensive operation employing only pinpoint strikes against the "terrorists", while avoiding collateral damage (slaughtered civilians) wherever possible. If not actually members of Hizbollah, the villagers of south Lebanon are surely lending their tacit support to the enemies of peace? If wounded women and children are reckless enough to ride in a Hizbollah ambulance, how can the Israeli gunners know this ?

Last April, I travelled from Beirut to Sidon and Tyre. Although in a country regarded as a chief historical villain, I was confronted only with friendship and hospitality from people desperately trying to rebuild a shattered, but naturally beautiful country.

The few individuals with a good word for Hizbollah - and these were poor Shia Muslims - saw them only as a buffer against Israel and its proxy militia in the occupied zone. If civilians were no longer vulnerable to cross-border attack, the Hizbollah umbrella would become superfluous.

Richard Sockett

London N22