Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Exodus - Thousands flee war torn Lebanon

Described as a ‘major major escalation’ by an Israeli spokesman, a Hezbollah missile hit Haifa on Thursday. Israeli rockets hit the Foreign Ministry in Gaza but the new front in Lebanon has become the new focus of attention. The UN criticised Israel’s use of air attacks to destroy the infrastructure within Gaza creating what has been described as a humanitarian crisis in the making. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Observer to the UN, said, “When you destroy electrical power and cut of water you are collectively punishing the whole population.” However a resolution put forward at the UN was vetoed by the United States and the continued Israeli bombardment of Lebanese towns has forced thousands to leave the country. British, French and Canadian nationals were amongst hundreds being evacuated by their respective country’s airforce and navy. It has been described as the biggest evacuation since Dunkirk. There are up to 23,000 British citizens in Lebanon, and only 66 have as yet been evacuated. Many evacuees have arrived in Cyprus which is struggling to cope with the large influx of people as they arrive at the height of the tourist season. The struggle to get pictures out of the country is as difficult as it is to remove stranded foreign nationals. Sky News broadcast pictures from Haifa and Jerusalem using conventional satellite technology whilst pictures coming from Beirut were relayed via satellite phone. But there is not saturation coverage usually associated with such big stories. Newspapers are for the most part, placing the coverage of this building crisis to its inside pages. One exception being the Independent which has heavily criticised the Israeli bombardment. Robert Fisk described what he was seeing in the Lebanon as an ‘outrage’. In Monday’s Independent he described the destruction of apartment blocks as Israeli missiles rained down on the city. Some strikes could indeed be described as terrorist targets, but the civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis is mounting. But there are targets which many might not consider ‘legitimate’ targets. Power stations, ports, airports, sewage plants, roads, railways and bridges have also been hit. This has further complicated the evacuation of the many foreign nationals still trapped in the country. Most of the French nationals have been safely removed from Lebanon after a ferry was chartered and swiftly docked in Beirut. But Britain has been criticised for dragging its feet in its evacuation effort. Sky News reported that six warships were moored off the coast but a decision was still being awaited as to when stranded Britons might be transported out of the war torn capital.

World leaders have debated a possible solution to the violence at the G8 summit held in Moscow. UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan has suggested a significant multi-nation force be sent to quell the continuing fighting. But there has been little support for such a move. In fact a ‘private’ chat between George W Bush and Tony Blair brought little comfort to those who might seek a quick solution [BBC]. In the unguarded speech, caught by broadcast microphones, President Bush said to the Prime Minister, “What about Kofi Annan - he seems all right. I don't like his ceasefire plan. His attitude is basically ceasefire and everything sorts out.... But I think...”, Tony Blair interjected, “Yeah the only thing I think is really difficult is that we can't stop this without getting international presence agreed. I think what you guys have talked about which is the criticism of the [inaudible word]. I am perfectly happy to try and see what the lie of the land is, but you need that done quickly because otherwise it will spiral.” As the chat continued, the frankness between the two world leaders became clear. “You see the irony is what they [the UN] need to is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's all over...”, Bush said to Blair [BBC]

Menzies Campbell, the British Liberal Democrat leader, said he was “depressed and pessimistic” as the conflict escalated. The conflict has killed over 200 in Lebanon as Israeli war planes bomb the country for the seventh successive day. Israel too has suffered casualties. At least 24 have died in Hezbollah missile attacks. But just as Hezbollah attacks increase the resolve of the Israeli government, so too does the continued attacks by Israel increase the support for Hezbollah. And so the conflict continues with little sign of any solution and with an increased danger of a wider Middle-East conflict. Posted by Picasa

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