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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Qana: "They found them huddled together" 

UPDATE 3: Kevin Sites reports from Qana:

I ask Abbas Kassab who he blames for the bombing and death in Qana, and the answer I receive is similar to what I have heard elsewhere on the streets of Lebanon:

"America," he says. "Only America."

"Why?"

"America gave the green light for Israel to do this. Israel can't shoot one bullet without America's permission. America is responsible. There are not resistance fighters here. Only kids playing. Even if there were, why would they kill civilians? Let them fight in Bint Jbail where the resistance is. Let Israel go to Bint Jbail and see what they can do."

UPDATE 2: Perhaps, this is more important than we realize:

Iraq's top Shiite cleric Sunday demanded an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon, warning the Muslim world will ``not forgive'' nations that stand in the way of stopping the fighting.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued the call following the Israeli airstrike that killed at least 56 Lebanese, mostly women and children, in the village of Qana. It was the deadliest attack in nearly three weeks of fighting.

``Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire,'' al-Sistani said, in a clear reference to the United States.

``It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon,'' he added. ``If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region.''

Significantly, Sistani is known for being measured in his public statements, so we should be careful before we dismiss his remarks as politically expedient.

Meanwhile, the Israeli cabinet approves Olmert's plan to expand the war upon the civilian populace of Lebanon.

UPDATE 1: Lebanese tell Dahr Jamail about the consequences of the IDF's war upon the civilian population of southern Lebanon:

Wounded people from southern Lebanon narrate countless instances of indiscriminate attacks by the Israeli military.

Thirty-six-year-old Khuder Gazali, an ambulance driver whose arm was blown off by an Israeli rocket, told IPS that his ambulance was hit while trying to rescue civilians whose home had just been bombed.

"Last Sunday people came to us and asked us to go help some people after their home was bombed by the Israelis," he said from his bed in Hamoudi Hospital in Sidon, the largest city in southern Lebanon. "We found one of them, without his legs, lying in a garden, so we tried to take him to the nearest hospital."

On the way to the hospital, an Israeli Apache helicopter hit his ambulance with a rocket, severely injuring him and the four people in the back of the vehicle, he said.

"So then another ambulance tried to reach us to rescue us, but it too was bombed by an Apache, killing everyone inside it," he said. "Then it was a third ambulance which finally managed to rescue us."

Khuder, who had shrapnel wounds all over his body, said "this is a crime, and I want people in the West to know the Israelis do not differentiate between innocent people and fighters. They are committing acts of evil.. They are attacking civilians, and they are criminals."

At Labib Medical Center in Sidon, countless survivors of Israeli bombardment had similar stories to tell.

Sixteen-year-old Ibrahim al-Hama told IPS that he and his friends were hit by an Israeli bomb while they were swimming in a river near a village north of Tyre.

"Two of my friends were killed, along with a woman," said al-Hama. "Why did they bomb us?"

In an adjacent room, a man whose wife and two small children were recovering from wounds suffered in Israeli bombing told IPS that they had left their village near the border because the bombings had become fierce, and the Israeli military had dropped leaflets ordering them to leave.

"We ran out of food, and the children were hungry, so they left with my wife and her sister in a car which followed a Red Crescent ambulance, while another car took the two other sisters of my wife," he said. "They reached Kafra village, and an F-16 bombed the car with my wife's two sisters. They are dead."

Such killings have been common throughout the south.

On July 23, a family left their village after Israelis dropped leaflets ordering them out. Their car carried a white flag, but was still bombed by an Israeli plane. Three in the car were killed.

The same day, three of 19 passengers in a van heading away from the southern village Tiri were killed when it was bombed by an Israeli plane.

A 43-year-old man from the village Durish Zhair south of Tyre lay at the Labib Medical Center with multiple shrapnel wounds and half his body blackened by fire.

"Please tell them to stop using white phosphorous," he said. "The Israelis must stop these attacks. Do not allow the Israelis to continue murdering us." He and his family were bombed in their home.

Zhair said his family were scattered in hospitals and refugee centers in Sidon and Beirut. But in the hospital hallway outside his room, head nurse of the hospital Gemma Sayer said "all of his family is dead. We cannot tell him yet because he is so badly injured."

INITIAL POST: For an excellent article about the horrendous IDF airstrike on Qana, read the Guardian.

For blunt analysis, which I shall not try to replicate, visit Lenin's Tomb.

I will limit my comment today to two observations.

First, if you read the Guardian attentively, you will discover yet another illustration that the war on Lebanon is our war:

The strike that destroyed the building was a precision-guided bomb dropped from the air, the same kind of bomb that destroyed a UN position in Khiyam last week, killing four UN observers. Writing on fragments of the US-made bomb at the site read: GUIDED BOMB BSU 37/B.

Second, the IDF continues to flail about like a crazed monster, irrationally attempting to recover its shattered perception of invincibility through the slaughter of the Lebanese. Each incident of this kind merely serves to highlight that the IDF prefers to prosecute the war through the collective punishment of Lebanon, fearful of direct combat with Hizbollah. And the whole world is watching.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

"They hated America, they didn't even mention Israel" 

UPDATE 3: Yet again, our war, as, in a video report available on YouTube, Kevin Sites describes the angry response after an Israeli missile attack upon an apartment block in a residential area of Tyre today resulted in civilian casualties, including women and children. According to Sites, the destruction was immense, almost a full city block. Missiles exploded in a neighborhood where refugees had taken refuge. Survivors told Sites that they hated America, they didn't even mention Israel. Elsewhere, an Israeli airstrike in Nmeiriya in southern Lebanon destroyed a house, killing a woman and 5 children.

UPDATE 2: Again, our war, as Ireland refused to permit US planes delivering weapons to Israel to refuel at Shannon Airport, with the high density uranium warheads routed through Scotland instead:

The two Israeli-bound cargos of US bombs that were expected to refuel at Prestwick Airport last night contained deadly, high-density uranium warheads which represent a serious safety risk to the airport.

The arrival of the bomb cargos at Prestwick has caused a storm of protest, with opposition MPs describing the use of the Scottish airport to re-arm the Israeli offensive in Lebanon as “completely unacceptable”.

Anger over the flights was compounded after it emerged that the Irish government refused to allow the US administration to use Shannon Airport for similar shipments to Israel. Dermot Ahern, the Irish foreign affairs minister, said he would block any attempt by the US to transport arms through his country.

A spokeswoman for Ahern told the Sunday Herald: “Minister Ahern did say during the week that permission would not be granted if there was an application made to transport munitions of war to the Middle East.”

The bunker-buster weapons, thought to be GBU28 bombs, are being supplied by the US to Israel in a bid to assassinate Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and other senior militia officials who may be hidden in tunnel networks in southern Lebanon.

UPDATE 1: Our war, as previously explained here about a week and a half ago:

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday vowed to fire rockets on communities in central Israel if the military operation in Lebanon continued, and accused Israel of being an American "slave."

"The bombardment of Afula and its military base is the beginning ... Many cities in the center [of Israel] will be targeted in the 'beyond Haifa' phase if the savage aggression continues on our country, people and villages," Nasrallah said in a speech aired on Hezbollah's Al-Manar television.

"The Israelis are ready to halt the aggression because they are afraid of the unknown. The one pushing for the continuation of the aggression is the U.S. administration. Israel has been exposed as a slave of the U.S.," he said.

The neoconservatives aren't shipping Israel bunker buster weapons and jet fuel for them to be placed in storage.

INITIAL POST (The Multilateral Peacekeeping Force Delusion): Do Bush and Blair really believe that the deployment of a purported peacekeeping force will stop the war in Lebanon?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned to Israel on Saturday evening to press for a substantive agreement that could lead to a more rapid cease-fire and the insertion of an international force along the Lebanese border with Israel.

Ms. Rice, on her way back from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, praised the Lebanese government, which includes two Hezbollah ministers, for agreeing on the outlines of a negotiating package that could include international peacekeepers.

As she spoke of “fairly intense” negotiations to come with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, there was a sense here that President Bush, after his meeting in Washington with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, had suddenly decided to give Israel a shorter period in which to hammer Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon.

Ms. Rice is working to draft a United Nations Security Council resolution that would allow for the insertion of some 15,000 to 20,000 international peacekeepers along the Lebanese border with Israel and along Lebanon’s border with Syria, to prevent the rearming of Hezbollah. The force would also work with the Lebanese Army to enable it to begin patrolling the border itself.

A more carefully reading of this New York Times article reveals, however, that the support of Hizbollah ministers within the Lebanese government is conditional, at best:

In an interview with Reuters in Beirut on Saturday, Hezbollah’s deputy chief, Naim Kassem, cast doubt on the depth of the movement’s commitment to the cabinet plan. During the meeting, he said, “Hezbollah expressed its observations and asked a few questions because there are things that need more discussions, more details and more debate.” When asked about international demands that the group disarm and make way for an international force in south Lebanon, he said, “America and Israel have no right to get a result from their defeat.”

Predictably, the Times fails to recognize that the deployment of these so-called peacekeepers will only mark a transition to new stage in the conflict, a stage whereby the countries who participate in the composition of the force militarily align themselves in support of the Israelis, as observed by Christopher Deliso:

For Israel to be satisfied, the new peacekeeping force will thus have to be "a professional one, with soldiers from countries who have the training and capabilities to be effective." In other words, they will be de facto front-lines soldiers for the Israeli army, recruited from the militarily strongest countries, led ideally by the United States.

Perhaps, the peculiar notion is that the multinational force, along with the IDF, can prevail against Hizbollah, as it has become evident that the IDF by itself cannot. If so, it seems dubious:

With Israeli forces pulling back from a key Lebanese border town after several days of bloody fighting, UNIFIL’s top commander says that Hezbollah cannot be defeated militarily.

“A military victory will never be possible,” Major General Alain Pellegrini, the commander of UNIFIL, the acronym of the UN peacekeeping force deployed in south Lebanon, told The [London] Times in an interview.

He said that only a political solution can resolve the fate of Hezbollah’s military wing, adding that after more than two weeks of heavy fighting, the Lebanese group is “still strong”. . . .

Unfil estimates there are between 800 to 1,000 Hezbollah combatants deployed throughout the south, operating in groups numbering as few as 12 to 15.

They have ready access to weapons and ammunition and have retained their channels of communication, speaking in code over walkie-talkies.

“Sometime they use radio frequencies that are the same as ours and we can hear them talk,” Mr Morczynski said. “They say ‘This is brother 13. We are going to carry out operation seven. Hope you are all safe’.” He said that Hezbollah is showing little sign of weakening despite the intensity of the Israeli onslaught. “They are mobile, dedicated and willing to act. When there’s shelling, they’re not scared. They’re not sitting in bunkers,” he said.

Journalists with experience in the region, like Patrick Cockburn, have a clear-eyed perspective of what is likely to transpire:

The arrival of the multinational force in Lebanon in 1982 brought with it a train of disasters. I still recall that great concrete sandwich near the airport that was all that remained of the US barracks in which 241 Marines died after it was hit by a suicide bomber on 23 October 1983. Elsewhere in Beirut, 58 French paratroopers were entombed when the building in which they were living was rammed by a second vehicle packed with explosives.

There is no reason why a multinational force landing in Lebanon in 2006 will not face the same dangers, and possibly suffer the same disasters, as 24 years ago. Its arrival will be opposed wholly by the Shia community, 40 per cent of the population, since the force will be seen as the creature of the US, which has so wholly supported the Israeli onslaught.

Of course, it shouldn't be nearly as bad this time. Hizbollah only has the support of 87% of the Lebanese population in its conflict with Israel, with a report that armed Lebanese Sunnis are already fighting alongside Hizbollah in southern Lebanon.

Here is an example of what appears to be the emerging attitude, as expressed by Lamia Osseiran, an organizer of a rally outside UN offices in Beirut, demanding a ceasefire:

"The Israelis are radicalising Lebanon, even liberal democrats like me. I took part in last year's demonstrations against Syria. I was a critic of Hizbullah. Now I cannot help but support Hizbullah's fighters who are defending our country." What about Hizbullah's rocket attacks on Haifa? "It's right," she replied. "It's not only Lebanese who should have to suffer. Are human rights available only to Israelis? You can't have winter and summer on the same roof."

Is there a sinister motivation behind the enthusiasm of the neoconservatives, both here and in Israel, for the destruction of Lebanon? Do they actually want to increase the influence of Hizbollah within Lebanon, thus justifying even more extreme measures against the populace, with the belief that Americans would accept mass slaughter on the scale of the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, and possibly, even worse? Is there a deliberate policy of polarization through violence, with the expectation that it will generate popular support for war with Syria and Iran?

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Friday, July 28, 2006

"Everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hizbollah" 

On Wednesday, I posted the following about the prospects for the Lebanese in light of the ambush of the IDF at Bint Jbail:

After all, somebody must be held responsible for the failures of Olmert and IDF leadership, and who better than the people of Lebanon?

Morally and ethically, it has already been squared away. Alan Dershowitz reassures us that we should not consider them the equal of Israelis who have been victimized by the conflict. Tragically, the failings of Olmert and the IDF are so severe that they have no choice but to kill large numbers of Lebanese and decimate what remains of Lebanese society in order to atone.

Days of vengence may lurk just over the horizon:

Everyone remaining in southern Lebanon will be regarded as a terrorist, Israel's justice minister said yesterday as the military prepared to employ "huge firepower" from the air in its campaign to crush Hizbollah.

Haim Ramon issued the warning as the Israeli government decided against expanding ground operations after the death of nine soldiers in fighting on Wednesday.

"What we should do in southern Lebanon is employ huge firepower before a ground force goes in," Mr Ramon said at a security cabinet meeting headed by Ehud Olmert, the prime minister. "Everyone in southern Lebanon is a terrorist and is connected to Hizbollah. Our great advantage vis-a-vis Hizbollah is our firepower, not in face-to-face combat."

Mr Olmert promised that the army would "continue toward the established goals".

Mr Ramon's comments suggested that civilian casualties in Lebanon, which stand at about 600 after 16 days of bombardment, could rise yet higher.

In preparation for this assault, the US has shipped so-called "bunker busters" to Israel, with potentially serious consequences beyond the obvious immediate loss of life, according to Dr. Doug Rokke, a former Director of the U.S. Army Depleted Uranium project:

The delivery of at least 100 GBU 28 bunker busters bombs containing depleted uranium warheads by the United States to Israel for use against targets in Lebanon will result in additional radioactive and chemical toxic contamination with consequent adverse health and environmental effects throughout the middle east.

For those unfamiliar with depleted uranium weapons, there is a belief that they leave a radioactive residue in the environment responsible for numerous adverse health effects, including death, experienced by soldiers and non-combatants exposed to them. Robert Fisk has a disturbing chapter in his most recent book, The Great War for Civilization, describing his heartrending personal encounters with hospitalized Iraqis, many of them children, exposed to depleted uranium in southern Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, with no hope of recovery.

For Lebanese in an IDF designated free fire zone, exposure to depleted uranium is a secondary concern:

An International Committee of the Red Cross report said one of its delegates who had visited Blida, near the Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil, had found about 700 people, including 300 children, sheltering in a mosque.

Villagers were running short of water, food and medicine, displaced people were huddled in schools and patients stranded in hospitals. "Dead bodies had not been removed from the streets and others were still buried in rubble," the ICRC said.

Put bluntly, the IDF is creating a free fire zone in a bombed out region with an emerging refugee crisis:

Over 600 civilians from Naqoura, Alma Ash Shab, and other neighboring villages were sheltered inside the UNIFIL Headquarters in Naqoura yesterday, and provided with food and water. UNIFIL also provided humanitarian escorts to a group of 250 of them yesterday from Naqoura to Tyre, and to another group of around 300 this morning. Around 100 civilians still remain in the UNIFIL compound. The ICRC distributed this morning some food to UNIFIL in Naqoura for the remaining group. UNIFIL hospital in Naqoura provided treatment for 39 civilians.

Approximately 1000 local civilians from Alma Ash Shab, Al Bustan, Yarin, Al Duharya, and other neighboring villages, were sheltered inside a UNIFIL position of the Ghanaian battalion in the area of Al Duharya at noon yesterday. Around 670 of them left the position for Tyre later in the afternoon. A group of 330 remained inside the position, and UNIFIL will attempt to provide a humanitarian escort and transportation for them to Tyre today. There were other reports of convoys of civilian cars moving from these areas in the direction of Tyre.

Naturally, none of this alarms the US or Israel, where there is near unanimity of the perceived need to undertake more aggressive measures before committing ground forces again. Unfortunately, as I originally wrote about the Israeli assault upon Gaza, an assault, much like the destruction of Lebanon, launched in response to the seizure of a soldier:

Levy has astutely identified the fundamental dilemma facing the Israelis, one very similar to what the United States has failed to solve since 9/11. The kidnapping of Shalit, and the inability to rescue him, has created an impression of vulnerability that requires the application of greater and greater levels of violence and intimidation, which, paradoxically, only serve to shine a brighter and brighter light upon the exposure of the vulnerability which provoked the violence in the first place.

I concede the crude theft of Baudrillard, but the crudity of the theft is a reflection of the coarse, unsophisticated, ultimately failed strategy of the IDF. In Lebanon, the IDF has been twice humiliated, first by the seizure of two soldiers, and, then, by defeat at Bint Jbail, a defeat exponentially greater than the seizure of the soldiers, given how it has been communicated by a stunned, dismayed consolidated global media centered in the United States and Western Europe.

Faced with the humiliation of having its image of invulnerability shattered, much in the same way, as noted by Baudrillard, that the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11 exposed a fissure, an irreparable vulnerability in US capitalism, the IDF has already magnified the problem tenfold at Bint Jbail, and plans to magnify it one hundred fold by increasing the application of force in southern Lebanon, regardless of the consequences for the predominately Shia populace. The IDF is displaying a profound ignorance, an inability to comprehend a fundamental principle: the greater the force applied by the IDF, the greater the victory attained by Hizbollah.

The US defeat in Iraq is a classic example of this principle of asymmetrical warfare, and the IDF is about to be taught an equally painful lesson. Both ignored numerous examples from history which demonstrate that great powers that launch wars of choice can only lose prestige and influence (France 1812, Germany 1914, Britain 1914, the USSR 1979), as only newly emergent ones benefit from them (the US 1845, Germany 1867 and 1870, Japan 1905, the US 1917, the People's Republic of China 1950). One can summarize it by reference to the old adage (paraphrased, and hence, misconstrued, from Nietzsche?), that which does not destroy us makes us stronger.

In this instance, Israel has been slow to understand that the war in Lebanon has been fought, and ultimately decided, symbolically instead of militarily, even if the symbolism is dependent upon a required level of military prowess by Hizbollah. It is already lost, and the IDF can only compound the defeat through the senseless slaughter of more Lebanese. In my post about the assault upon Gaza, I concluded:

In the end, the longer the Gaza operation continues, the more it reveals Isreal's greatest vulnerability of all: it's moral authority and the justification of its existence as an independent Zionist state.

Now, as a consequence of the IDF's doomed Lebanon campaign, Zionism is on life support, even more so that I suggested last week:

As for Zionism, each bomb that explodes in Gaza and Lebanon further shatters what remains of the edifice of its legitimacy. Challenged by demographic and social change within Israel, and confronted by those it has occupied and brutalized, Zionism has lost whatever idealism it originally possessed and abandoned its utopian sensibility, having been reduced by its proponents to an intellectual justification for militarism and the conscious use of unrestrained violence in order to perpetuate Israeli dominance of Palestine and Lebanon. An ideology stripped of its clothes of respectability will not long survive the cold of winter.

It will not comfort them, nor should it, but every death in Lebanon caused by the IDF in the coming weeks will be a nail in Zionism's coffin.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Star Wars in Iraq 

Journalists Maurizio Torrealta and Sigfrido Ranucci produced a short report for RAI, an Italian TV station, arguing that the US has used direct energy weapons in Iraq -- specifically, they interview eyewitnesses who claim exotic weapons were used in the battle for the Baghdad airport in 2003. Here's the video and Amy Goodman has a transcript excerpt here.

According to Torrealta and Ranucci, the Pentagon is on record about "military vehicles equipped with this laser device" that "have been used in Afghanistan to explode mines" which lends credibility to Star Wars in Iraq if true, although I haven't found the statement. Torrealta and Ranucci seem to be alleging use of so-called Vehicle-Mounted Active Denial Systems, which certainly aren't fiction, but have nothing to do with lasers and wouldn't result in the sort of effects cited by the eyewitnesses ... but who knows?

Anyway, I report you decide, yada yada yada, but generally I'm skeptical of these sorts of claims. In the Academy Award winning documentary The Panama Deception several witnesses made similar allegations regarding Operation Just Cause way back in 1989. More recently I remember there were reports of exotic weapons during the second Fallujah campaign all over the Arab press; however, the reports sounded to me like descriptions of the devastating effects of white phosphorus rounds, which the Pentagon was on record about, so I never saw the need to speculate about anything more mysterious. Maybe not so coincidentally, Italian TV also aired a documentary focusing on the use of white phosphorus in Iraq: it seems exotic weapons play well in Italy...

IDF Stuck in Neutral in Southern Lebanon 

UPDATE 2: IDF soldiers describe the intensity of the fighting in Bint Jbail:

The wounded soldiers described the battle as a bitter one which took place in a built-up setting, one where enemy forces had organized a well-planned ambush. Soldiers faced gunfire from any and all directions.

"They shot at us from 180 degrees," said one of the soldiers. Most of the dead and seriously wounded are those from the initial wave of ground troops which tried to enter one of the homes in Bint Jbail. The soldiers who suffered light wounds are primarily those who arrived on the scene to retrieve the bodies of the dead and wounded soldiers lying in the battlefield.

Some of the wounded were in an open field and others behind walls as well as inside homes. Sergeant Tzachi Duda suffered light injuries in his leg due to shrapnel.

"The battle began at 3:30 at night," he said. "Ten minutes after the first clash, we arrived to help. There was heavy fire from rocket launchers, missiles, rocket-propelled grenades. I provided cover fire for soldiers who tried to reach the wounded, and this went on for hours. Eventually, a missile hit the yard where I was standing. I was thrown back along with the wall which I was hiding behind. In my lifetime I never expected to see bodies and people with bullets in their chest."

More from McClatchy News Service:


Among the nation's most elite unit, the Golani had been chosen to clear out the last Hezbollah fighters from a deserted city of 20,000. Israeli forces had controlled the hills around the town for days, but their intelligence services believed that as many as 50 fighters remained, hiding in basements, waiting. Military spokesmen said they were thought to be preparing a final, glorious attack.

"They weren't looking to survive," said Israeli Capt. Doron Spielman.

Still, the Israelis weren't ready for what hit them. As they entered a manmade canyon, gunfire rained down from the ridge and from the upper stories of empty apartment buildings. Mortar rounds poured in. Closer to the ground, Hezbollah fighters launched rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles. It would later be described as a hornets' nest.

"Overnight, the Hezbollah strength had at least doubled, and there were perhaps as many as 150," said Maj. Zvika Golan. "The attack came from all sides."

In the first minutes of the battle, at least eight Israeli soldiers were killed. Many more were wounded. Israeli officials said it was an hour before others were able to start evacuating the dead and wounded because the barrage was so fierce.

No doubt, the IDF will learn from this. But, so will Hizbollah.

UPDATE 1: Ha'aretz now reports that the IDF lost 8 soldiers in Bint Jbail yesterday. Meanwhile, Uri Avnery nails it in a Counterpunch article originally written over the weekend:

Only one thing is already certain on the 11th day of the war: Nothing good will come of it. Whatever happens - Hizbullah will emerge strengthened. If there had been hopes in the past that Lebanon would slowly become a normal country, where Hizbullah would be deprived of a pretext for maintaining a military force of its own, we have now provided the organization with the perfect justification: Israel is destroying Lebanon, only Hizbullah is fighting to defend the country.

As for deterrence: a war in which our huge military machine cannot overcome a small guerilla organization in 11 days of total war certainly has not rehabilitated its deterrent power. In this respect, it is not important how long this war will last and what will be its results - the fact that a few thousand fighters have withstood the Israeli army for 11 days and more, has already been imprinted in the consciousness of hundred of millions of Arabs and Muslims.

INITIAL POST: Sam Ghattas of Associated Press gets the story. Hizbollah has inflicted heavy casualties upon Israeli troops fighting to take control of a city across the border that they claimed to have seized 4 days ago:

Hezbollah inflicted heavy casualties on Israeli troops as they battled for a key hilltop town in southern Lebanon for a fourth day Wednesday, with as many as 14 soldiers reported killed. Lebanese officials, meanwhile, confirmed that four U.N. observers were killed by an Israeli airstrike on their post Tuesday night.

Increasingly, it appears that the Israeli campaign in southern Lebanon is stalled, which may explain Olmert's recent statements that the Israelis have the stamina for a long struggle:

Israel has faced fiercer resistance than expected as it advances across the border in its two-week campaign against the Islamic militant group.

Wednesday's fighting broke out when Israeli forces tried to advance inside Bint Jbail, a town that has symbolic importance to Hezbollah as one of the centers of resistance to the 1982-2000 Israeli occupation.

There were conflicting reports about the casualty toll in the fourth day of fighting for Bint Jbail, which holds the largest Shiite Muslim community in the border area.

Al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite TV channel, said 14 Israeli soldiers had been killed. Hezbollah's chief spokesman Hussein Rahhal said of the battle: "What I can tell you is that 13 Israelis have been burned alive in their tanks on our land."

If confirmed, it would be the largest death toll suffered by the Israeli military in a single attack since the offensive began two weeks ago.

The Israeli military said there were 20 Israeli casualties, but it would not say if any soldiers had been killed.

Israeli TV reported 13 casualties, but was not more specific. Israel Radio said "at least 10 Israeli soldiers had been hit" in heavy fighting against 200 Hezbollah guerrillas in the town. The radio did not specify if any Israelis were killed.

The Israeli army said several Hezbollah fighters had taken cover in a local mosque. The Israeli army said several Hezbollah fighters had taken cover in a local mosque. A senior Hezbollah official, Mahmoud Komati, told The Associated Press that Israeli forces had managed to seize a few points inside Bint Jbail, but had not yet taken the town center.

A senior Hezbollah official, Mahmoud Komati, told The Associated Press that Israeli forces had managed to seize a few points inside Bint Jbail, but had not yet taken the town center.

And, predictably, it's not just Bint Jbail where the IDF is experiencing difficulties:

Fighting also has been heavy for days around the border towns of Aitaroun and Maroun al-Ras, where Israeli forces are trying to eliminate the guerrillas who have been firing rockets into Israel. The area controls the high ground in the central sector of the Lebanese-Israeli border.

The IDF has, however, effectively ignored the pleas of UN peacekeepers, and successfully killed four of them, as described in yesterday's UPDATE 2:

The four unarmed UN observers from Austria, Canada, China and Finland, died after their UN post in the town of Khiam was hit by an Israeli air strike on Tuesday.

A senior Irish soldier working for the UN forces had warned the Israelis six times that their bombardment was endangering the lives of UN staff, Ireland's foreign ministry said.

Had Israel responded to the requests, "rather than deliberately ignoring them", the observers would still be alive, a diplomat familiar with the report said.

Israel could have negotiated the release of the two soldiers with Hizbollah, reaching an agreement to release Shia still in its custody, as it has done in the past. Instead, it decided to seize upon their capture as an opportunity to achieve its goal of creating a client state in Lebanon.

Now, much of the world is appalled at the systemic destruction of Lebanon's infrastruture, and the use of broad rules of engagement that make it legitimate for IDF pilots to fire missiles at homes, ambulances, civilian convoys of people fleeing their homes as ordered by the IDF and, amazingly, entire apartment blocks, even as the troops that it sends into combat against Hizbollah take substantial casualties.

People like Olmert and Bush do not strike me as the type of people known for self-reflection, but one wonders if others, both here and in Israel, have finally recognized that it might have been better to avoid a war with an adversary that prevails merely by staying upright in the ring.

Unfortunately, the success of Hizbollah strongly suggests more violence and more deaths, not less. Hizbollah will be emboldened to launch more rocket attacks into Israel, while the IDF will thrash about wildly to obscure its difficulties in direct combat with Hizbollah by more aggressively targeting non-combatants. After all, somebody must be held responsible for the failures of Olmert and IDF leadership, and who better than the people of Lebanon?

Morally and ethically, it has already been squared away. Alan Dershowitz reassures us that we should not consider them the equal of Israelis who have been victimized by the conflict. Tragically, the failings of Olmert and the IDF are so severe that they have no choice but to kill large numbers of Lebanese and decimate what remains of Lebanese society in order to atone.

Like many of us, Zbigniew Brzezinski takes a different view:

"I hate to say this but I will say it. I think what the Israelis are doing today for example in Lebanon is in effect, in effect -- maybe not in intent -- the killing of hostages. The killing of hostages."

"Because when you kill 300 people, 400 people, who have nothing to do with the provocations Hezbollah staged, but you do it in effect deliberately by being indifferent to the scale of collateral damage, you're killing hostages in the hope of intimidating those that you want to intimidate. And more likely than not you will not intimidate them. You'll simply outrage them and make them into permanent enemies with the number of such enemies increasing."

Brzezinski fails to note, however, that many of these outraged people will rightly consider the US equally culpable for what has been done to them, as I discussed at length in yesterday's initial post. It probably just skipped his mind.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Fall of the House of Usher 

UPDATE 2: Looks like the IDF is persisting in its war plan of prioritizing the targeting of non-combatants in Lebanon:

Four United Nations peacekeepers have been killed in an Israeli air strike on an observation post in south Lebanon.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was "shocked" at the "apparently deliberate targeting" of the post. Israel has expressed "deep regret".

Apparently, shelling a UNIFIL outpost 14 times, and firing upon rescuers, as related in the linked BBC article, is a lot easier than engaging Hizbollah:

As they munched watermelon yesterday, sweating Israeli soldiers were visibly shocked by the stiff opposition they had encountered, describing their Hezbollah opponents as a “guerrilla army” with landmines and anti-tank missiles capable of crippling a Merkavah battle tank.

“It was really scary. Most of our armoured personnel carriers have holes,” a paramedic told The Times after recovering three wounded tank soldiers. “It’s a very hard situation. We were in Lebanon before but it wasn’t like this for a long time.” A tank commander said: “It’s a real war.”

In the Galilee town of Safed, Brigadier-General Shuki Shachar, deputy commander of the northern forces, conceded that the foe was not an easy one. “Hezbollah is a fanatical organisation. It is highly motivated to fight. I don’t want to give grades to the enemy, but they are fighting. They are not escaping,” he said. He insisted, however, that Israel was “changing the balance” after a belated recognition that the Shia group was dug in deeper than expected.

UPDATE 1: More indications that the war is not going well for the IDF. Juan Cole has an excellent post on the subject today, along with a deconstruction of Rice's surprise trip to Beirut.

Asia Times Online provides a thorough analysis by Sami Moubayed, which it is tempting to discount because of its Syrian origin, but it remains an absorbing read, as indicated by this crystallization of the intractable problem faced by the IDF: As a Western observer put it, when walking through south Lebanon, one can feel Hezbollah but one cannot see Hezbollah.

Billmon recognized fairly early that the IDF operation lacked any attainable strategic objectives, and he implicitly addresses the subject again here. In the end, one need only read the New York Times to obtain confirmation. Instead of celebrating the triumphalism of the IDF, it has instead published an article today empathizing with the difficulties faced by young conscripts going into Lebanon.

INITIAL POST:As the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon continues, some recall an eerie videotaped presence, speaking to us across a great divide of religion, culture, intolerance and violence, suggesting a perverse circularity:

The events that affected my soul in a direct way started in 1982 when America permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon and the American Sixth Fleet helped them in that. This bombardment began and many were killed and injured and others were terrorised and displaced.

I couldn't forget those moving scenes, blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high rises demolished over their residents, rockets raining down on our home without mercy.

The situation was like a crocodile meeting a helpless child, powerless except for his screams. Does the crocodile understand a conversation that doesn't include a weapon? And the whole world saw and heard but it didn't respond.

In those difficult moments many hard-to-describe ideas bubbled in my soul, but in the end they produced an intense feeling of rejection of tyranny, and gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors.

And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.

And that day, it was confirmed to me that oppression and the intentional killing of innocent women and children is a deliberate American policy. Destruction is freedom and democracy, while resistance is terrorism and intolerance.

This means the oppressing and embargoing to death of millions as Bush Sr did in Iraq in the greatest mass slaughter of children mankind has ever known, and it means the throwing of millions of pounds of bombs and explosives at millions of children—also in Iraq—as Bush Jr did, in order to remove an old agent and replace him with a new puppet to assist in the pilfering of Iraq's oil and other outrages.

We are left to seek words of comfort from British historian Simon Schama, such as they are:

I actually believe that history never repeats itself in precisely the same way. We often make the same kind of mistakes, but the way they play out is never like "Groundhog Day". History has its own mischievous unpredictability. The point of learning it is not to anticipate a precise replica of the cock-ups of the past; it's to learn something deep and important about the nature of the human animal and be prepared for the worst as well as the best that we're capable of. Ultimately, the truths that history gives us aren't that much different from the truths yielded by great poetry or philosophy. They're an education rather than a prophecy.

Somehow, I'm not quite reassured. If anything, it appears that the Iraqis, and now, the Lebanese Shia, have been brutally compelled to learn from history, while we (and the Israelis?) remain doggedly arrogant in the unshakeable conviction that we shape it, instead of it shaping us, as Ron Suskind so frighteningly revealed:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

Unfortunately, we may again find ourselves confronting unimaginable horrors far beyond the detached confines of academia and journalism.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Lebanon: Only the Beginning 

UPDATE: Photographs of the devastation in Lebanon can found here, as well as here, with analysis from As'ad Abukhalil.

INITIAL POST: Consistent with British doubts about the effectiveness of the Israeli military campaign:

Israel is overstating the damage its air war has inflicted on the Hezbollah militia, which hides its weapons in tunnels and civilian neighborhoods throughout Lebanon, Bush administration and intelligence officials said yesterday.

Israeli assessments are "too large," said one U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But he added, "We are not getting into numbers."

Jerusalem military leaders have put out numbers such as "50 percent" and "one-third" to assess the damage its combat jets have done to Hezbollah's arsenal of 13,000 rockets, and its mortars, launchers, vehicles and other military equipment.

Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Daniel Ayalon, told the Associated Press yesterday that bombing has destroyed more than 40 percent of Hezbollah's arms.

A second government source said the amount destroyed is less than one-third.

Meanwhile, if you had any residual doubt that the war in Lebanon is our war, a war of the US against the people of Lebanon, then, consider:

The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.

The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that could be compared to Iran’s efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah.

The munitions that the United States is sending to Israel are part of a multimillion-dollar arms sale package approved last year that Israel is able to draw on as needed, the officials said. But Israel’s request for expedited delivery of the satellite and laser-guided bombs was described as unusual by some military officers, and as an indication that Israel still had a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike.

An indication that Israel still had a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike. Not a statement of truimphant confidence. But there are two disturbing aspects to this statement beyond the promising prospect of the IDF getting ensnared in another quagmire in southern Lebanon. First, it suggests that the concern of some Beirut Lebanese, as expressed here by Hanady, that Israel is on the verge of a massive bombardment of the country may well be warranted:

Dear Friends,

The fear is growing in Beirut. Beirut is sad, scared, wounded and ... left alone. By yesterday morning, the UN said 150,000 people (foreigners and Lebanese holders of 2nd nationalities) had already left Lebanon. Evacuations are supposed to be completed by Friday. Today has been an exceptionally calm day: the US marines are evacuating US citizens. By tomorrow, the country will be left to its own people and Israeli shelling. In Beirut, by Saturday, there will only be those who have nowhere else to go and the very few who deliberately decided to stay. There were also be those who managed to flee the south and the southern suburb of the capital. What will happen to us on Saturday?

A friend called a few minutes ago, scared and begging me to go hide with her in Baabdat in the mountains. She said her friend who works with the UN and lives in Washington called her to tell her to stay out of Beirut, because she heard that by Saturday, it will be hell, nothing will stop them. The city will be theirs : my city , my dearest city , my only home , is open to their warplanes and shells. Our kids, as of Saturday, will be the targets of Israeli fire. So it's said. What I fear the most is that by Saturday, July the 22nd, Beirut will be cut off from the rest of the country, and the world. Every morning, I rush to the office to make sure the internet is still working. Every day I ask myself: why didn't they stop it?

As of Saturday, I fear every city or region will be cut off from the rest of the country. Maybe they won't bomb us. Maybe they will just leave us in our cities and villages to starve and rot to death. Maybe they will do both.

Worse than not knowing what will happen is knowing that whatever the Israelis decide to do, nobody wants or can stop them.

Hanady

Not surprisingly, in her most recent post, Hanady remains frightened and alarmed:

So it's Saturday. The day we fear. It seems the Israelis will have to postpone some of whatever plans they might have: the evacuations are not done yet. The French still have people leaving tomorrow, the Canadians too. There are growing reports about the segregation of the US evacuations: they have priorities ... white ones. I'm sorry I can't confirm, but my friends holding US passports keep telling me about it. I don't have time to investigate it. I'm working with the people fleeing their villages and homes.

Hamra (neighborhood in West Beirut, not targeted yet) was almost booming this morning. There were even traffic jams in the streets where some of the embassies asked their citizens to go to to be evacuated. There are also people who are shopping: food, bread, necessities that is. Hamra is hosting loads of displaced people from both the South and the Southern Suburb. There are also people who just need to go out for a walk. I even spotted two lovers walking hand in hand in one of the streets.

All this is happening today because last night Beirut and its suburb were spared air strikes. It's weird, the ability of human beings to cope and go on no matter what. One "calm" evening and it somehow feels like we're back to normal again. We, here in Beirut, can afford it. Some of my friends who live in the Southern Suburb went there yesterday to check on their houses and bring some of their stuff. They weren't able to find their homes. Whole neighborhoods are completely destroyed, they weren't even able to recognize in which streets they were.

Some people were able to reach Beirut from the South over the past couple of days. They tell hideous stories about what they witnessed there, about how they fled and what they encountered on the roads, about the people they left behind, some alive and some buried under the rubble. I feel you should read their stories, but I really don't have time to translate the articles we publish in As-Safir. But for those of you who read Arabic they're all on our website. If any of you wants to use them and translate them, please feel free to do so, but I only need you to mention As-Safir as the source.

When I started writing this message the Israeli fighter jets had just bombed three aerials in the Tourboul in the north, in Sanine in the east and in Fatqa east of Beirut. These are TV and mobile phone aerials.

They might want to cut off the rest of the world. They might not ... but just in case, I'm trying to find a way to keep you posted, at least with pictures. I need you then to spread them as much as possible. And if I don't succeed in doing that, keep checking the wires. I'm sure the reporters on this list have free access to the news agencies. PLEASE CIRCULATE ANY PICTURES YOU GET.

And if all this fails, then keep talking about us. Don't leave us alone in Beirut. Now, in case this conspiracy theory of mine proves to be wrong, and I'd still be able to reach you people, then we'll all laugh together and I'll manage to accept criticism about how naive I am.

Is the eye of the hurricane traveling over Beirut? We will soon know, and the shipment of more US weaponry to Israeli is not an encouraging sign. Of course, many remember what happened last time the Israelis launched a full scale invasion of Lebanon in 1982, with estimates of 17,500 to 20,000 dead Lebanese, so what will happen this time? Juan Cole is pessimistic, as he explains in a passionate, compelling post:

The Orwellian world into which Olmert and his band of manic bombers have plunged ordinary Lebanese is illustrated by Liz Sly's report for the Trib:

' Thousands of Lebanese were trying to flee the south after Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets warning people to leave, stirring fears that an Israeli ground invasion was imminent. But hundreds of thousands more remain stranded in villages and towns across the south, unable to leave their homes because of the intensity of the sustained Israeli bombing campaign. United Nations and Lebanese officials warned of an impending humanitarian disaster unless food and medical supplies are allowed to reach the stricken area and called on Israel to establish a "humanitarian corridor" to allow aid to get through. '

So let's get this straight. The Israelis warn the small town Shiites of the south to flee their own homes and go hundreds of miles away (and live on what? in what?). But then they intensely bombing them, making it impossible for them to flee. The Lebanese have awoken to find themselves cockroaches.

I repeat, this is nothing less than an ethnic cleansing of the Shiites of southern Lebanon, an assault on an entire civilian population's way of life. Aside from ecology, it is no different from what Saddam Hussein did to the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq, and the Israelis are doing it for exactly the same sorts of reasons that Saddam did.

Cole has much more to say about the crisis, so I strongly recommend visiting his blog and reading the entirety of his recent posts.

Second, there is another troubling dimension to the emergency shipment of precision-guided munitions, and that is the prospect that it foreshadows direct US military involvement:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she wants a ``robust'' international military force to try to oust Hezbollah forces from southern Lebanon, as she prepares to leave on a diplomatic mission to the region next week.

Rice said she will leave July 23 for meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, and then will meet with other nations in Rome to discuss the fighting in Lebanon.

``We do seek an end to the current violence and we seek it urgently,'' Rice told reporters at the State Department. Still, ``a cease fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.''

The conflict in the Middle East is now in its 10th day and Israel and the Hezbollah militia have vowed to continue the fighting that has left more than 300 Lebanese and 34 Israelis dead since it began July 12 when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers.

Any military force must be ``robust enough'' to supplant Hezbollah in southern Lebanon where it can launch attacks on Israel, she said. If not ``we're going to be back here in the next few months,'' Rice said.

It is impossible to imagine the creation of such a force that doesn't involve the US in a dominant role, because, otherwise, I just can't see other countries participating in the effort. Such a force, would, in effect, be little more than another coalition of the willing, with equally disasterous consequences. Justin Raimondo sounded the alarm about the likelihood of US intervention on Monday, but I was preoccupied with other things:

The question boils down to this: can the Israelis win a war with Hezbollah without American intervention? The answer, clearly, is no: look what happened last time. The Americans, lured into Beirut, suffered 241 casualties – after bombing Beirut's suburbs – and Reagan wisely withdrew. Israel, in the end, was driven out. The neocons are determined that, this time, the Americans will not only stay – they'll go for Damascus.

The call for American military intervention is bound to come up, rather shortly, and get louder as the long "precision" bombing of the Lebanese continues. The Israelis will pound Lebanon in a display of U.S.-backed military power, and the only debate in Washington will be over to what extent we ought to intervene, rather than whether we ought to get involved at all.

In the end, some combination of UN-NATO-American military intervention will do for the Israelis what they could never accomplish on their own: neutralize all opposition to their conquest of Palestine coming from the Levant. The "debate" in Washington is only over how to achieve that goal: the Democrats say we have to do it "multilaterally," and the Republicans, with Jacksonian disdain, say we don't have to answer to anybody (except the Israelis, of course).

Memories of past atrocities raise the nightmarish possibility (or is probability?) that we will see them perpetrated again, this time upon the Lebanese Shia in perversely creative new ways, after all, one need only look to nearby Iraq for inspiration. In 1982, the Israelis established control over West Beirut, sealed off the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, and then sent its armed Lebanese Christian allies into them, giving them free reign to slaughter many, if all, of the inhabitants, possibly as many as 3,500 people:

The Israeli military had completely surrounded and sealed off the camps and set up observation posts on the roofs of nearby tall buildings on September 15. The next day Israel announced that it controlled all key points in Beirut. The Israeli military met throughout the day with top Phalangist leaders to arrange the details of the operation. For the next two nights, from nightfall until late into the night the Israeli military fired illuminating flares above the camps.

On the evening of September 16, 1982, the Phalangist militia, under the command of Elie Hobeika, entered the camps. For the next 36 to 48 hours, the Phalangists massacred the inhabitants of the refugee camps, while the Israeli military guarded the exits and continued to provide flares by night.

Are we now about to send American troops into southern Lebanon so that the Israelis and their Lebanese Christian allies can brutalize the Lebanese Shia to such an extent that it reduces the horror of Sabra and Shatila to a historical footnote?

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Our War 

UPDATE 1: Apparently, the Israelis confidently thought that they would reach the Kremlin in six weeks:

When Marina Kaganovich and her parents moved to the bomb shelter next to their house, they thought they'd be there for a day or two. That was six days ago. Now she says she expects the suffocating shelter 15 feet underground to be home for "at least a few weeks."

The intense fighting between Israel and Lebanese guerrillas has startled many Israelis, who expected a quick and easy victory. "We all thought this would finish in a maximum of one week," says Sammy Yoseph, general manager of Nahariya's Carlton Hotel. "It seems very complicated now." Because it has a bomb shelter, the hotel is one of the few businesses allowed to stay open.

Very complicated now, indeed:

Two IDF soldiers were killed and six others were wounded in heavy clashes with Hezbollah just inside south Lebanon, close to Moshav Avivim, on Thursday afternoon.

Hezbollah fired mortar shells in the area in effort to disrupt the rescue of the wounded. The IDF believes that several Hezbollah guerillas were killed in the confrontation.

Major-General Benny Gantz, who serves as the head of the Ground Forces Command, said on Thursday that ground fighting in limited areas in Lebanon would continue despite the IDF's causalties.

"We hurt every time a soldier falls or is injured, bur soldiers are on the front lines to prevent fire on Israel. Even when there are casualties, the fighting is important, and for that reason we must continue."

Hezbollah bunkers are well-hidden and discernible only from a close distance, said Gantz. "The operation is challenging, difficult and complex. These are very significant battles that the enemy has prepared for, but so have we. Unfortunately, there is the price of casualties, but the other side, unlike us, doesn't report their casualties," he added.

On Thursday morning, three IDF soldiers were wounded in two separate clashes with Hezbollah in the same area. Two of the soldiers were wounded, one moderately and the other lightly, when a rocket hit a tank. A third soldier from a paratroop unit was seriously wounded in fighting with a Hezbollah cell. The soldier sustained head injuries and was taken to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.

The army said Thursday's clashes broke out not far from where Hezbollah killed two IDF troops and wounded nine others Wednesday.

Don't expect a ceasefire anytime soon.

INITIAL POST: Israel's assault upon Lebanon continues unabated with the unequivocal support of the United States, as reported by Robin Wright of the Washington Post on Sunday:

Israel, with U.S. support, intends to resist calls for a cease-fire and continue a longer-term strategy of punishing Hezbollah, which is likely to include several weeks of precision bombing in Lebanon, according to senior Israeli and U.S. officials. . . . .

Hezbollah's cross-border raid that captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others has provided a "unique moment" with a "convergence of interests" among Israel, some Arab regimes and even those in Lebanon who want to rein in the country's last private army, the senior Israeli official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing conflict. Israel and the United States would like to hold out until Hezbollah is crippled.

This is consistent with the analysis provided by long time Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery:

The real aim is to change the regime in Lebanon and to install a puppet government.

That was the aim of Ariel Sharon's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It failed. But Sharon and his pupils in the military and political leadership have never really given up on it.

As in 1982, the present operation, too, was planned and is being carried out in full coordination with the US.

As then, there is no doubt that it is coordinated with a part of the Lebanese elite.

That's the main thing. Everything else is noise and propaganda.

On the eve of the 1982 invasion, Secretary of State Alexander Haig told Ariel Sharon that, before starting it, it was necessary to have a "clear provocation", which would be accepted by the world.

The provocation indeed took place - exactly at the appropriate time - when Abu-Nidal's terror gang tried to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in London. This had no connection with Lebanon, and even less with the PLO (the enemy of Abu-Nidal), but it served its purpose.

This time, the necessary provocation has been provided by the capture of the two Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah. Everyone knows that they cannot be freed except through an exchange of prisoners. But the huge military campaign that has been ready to go for months was sold to the Israeli and international public as a rescue operation.

And, in case you may have forgotten, the Israeli Defense Force is literally made in America, as Reuters reported yesterday:

Israel's latest military operations reflect a fighting machine bolstered by U.S. weaponry, jet fuel and technology transfers -- and more is on its way.

From 1971 through 2005, U.S. aid to Israel has averaged more than $2 billion a year, two-thirds of which has been military assistance, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

Naturally, these weapons are playing a prominent role in the demolition of Lebanon:

The F-16I, dubbed "Soufa" or "Storm" in Hebrew, features modern cockpit displays with moving maps, "smart" weapons compatibility and updated navigation and targeting systems.

Such warplanes have been battering targets in Lebanon in an eight-day-old siege aimed at degrading the capabilities of Hizbollah fighters raining rockets on Israel.

It is tempting to observe, yet again, that these so-called smart weapons aren't looking very intelligent:

Twelve-year-old Nour lay heavily bandaged and fighting for her life in a hospital in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre. She is one of many children killed and injured in Israeli air strikes on this Mediterranean port in past days.

"We are praying for her," said Fatima, a laboratory technician doubling as a nurse at Jabal Amal hospital, which is overloaded with the victims of the air strikes. Ali, the doctor treating Nour, said he did not know whether she would survive her injuries. "She has large burns all over her body, she is losing a lot of fluids. She probably won't live; her life is now in God's hands."

More ambulances streamed into the hospital and doctors hurried to treat the victims of the latest bombing. Whatever the Israelis' intended target, the bomb fell on a small water canal next to the Qasmia refugee camp, home to about 500 Palestinians. Its victims were 11 children taking an afternoon swim in the canal.

The first blast left a crater nearly four metres deep, burying many of the swimmers deep under the orange earth. Seven of the children were injured, three critically. Three others have not been found.

The scene was littered with small plastic sandals, several caked in blood. Ismael, the father of one of the children, sat on the edge of the crater, his head in his hands weeping. "Children! Children!" he roared through his tears, "Children here! My son here." He stood and looked down into the crater: "Is Hizbullah here? Only children here," he said, referring to the militant Islamist group that kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and which Israel says it is targeting in the wave of attacks.

Another man staggered around behind Ismael, also unable to control his grief.

The children were taken to the intensive care unit, many caked in earth, having been buried deep in the ground. The victims of the blast joined scores of injured from previous attacks across the south of the country.

Ahmed Mrouwe, the hospital's director, said more than 200 wounded people had been brought into the hospital - one of three in the area. "We have received 196 wounded and 25 dead; the majority of them are children and women."

Glibly relying, however, upon the oft-noted inability of weapons manufacturers to develop munitions more effective at avoiding civilian casualties is, in this instance, an example of traveling down the wrong fork in the road, as the death and destruction inflicted upon Lebanon looks quite deliberate.

With each passing day, examples of the indiscriminate killing of Lebanese and the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure abound: at least 500,000 Lebanese displaced, bombing of homes, schools, village centers and vehicles, including ambulances and numerous civilian deaths, as posted throughout the website of As'ad Abukhalil, with over 300 dead and over 1,000 wounded. One-third of them are children.

Israel is generally ordering its troops to direct the weapons precisely where it wants them fired, as Robert Fisk related the remorseless methodology of the IDF during an interview on Democracy Now!:

Even a small example, I’ll give you. Yesterday, something fell out of the sky over a small area of Beirut called Qurashim [sic]. I think it was part of the wing, the wingtip of an F-16. The Israelis say it’s not, but I think it probably was. And it crashed in a fiery volcano glow and burned trees, bushes, the roadway, and decapitated a young man in his car who was driving home to his family.

I got there in about eight minutes. And there were three very friendly Lebanese soldiers. By chance, I knew one of them, the sergeant, who said, “Mr. Robert, you must be very careful. The Israelis will come back and bomb again, but we’ll take you into the fire and show you as much as we can.” And they stood around me and protected me as we went up the road for about a mile walking -- or running, to be very honest with you, because Mr. Fisk here is not a very brave warrior. And I saw parts of what appears to be a wing. I think it was burning fuel all over the road. I think it came out of whatever the aircraft was. I think what actually happened is a Hezbollah missile probably hit an F-16, and the Israelis didn't want to claim it. They said that it was part of a barrel containing propaganda pamphlets and leaflets, which -- well, I didn't see leaflets anyway, and I know they burn on fuel, but anyway, I saw what I could and got away afterwards and said, you know, waved at the soldiers and thanked them.

And the Israelis did come back some hours later and bombed the barracks of these soldiers, which were members of a logistics unit. Their job was to repair bridges and electrical lines. They weren't combat soldiers. And they killed ten Lebanese soldiers, including the three young men who had protected me the previous day. This was outrageous, because the Israelis know what each individual Lebanese army unit is doing. They know if it's a combat unit, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, whatever.

And they picked on this sole barracks to destroy those men, to exterminate them, because, of course, their job was to keep Beirut alive, to keep the power systems running, to repair the bridges which were being destroyed -- 46 bridges now, according to Minister of Finance, who told me this a few hours ago, have been destroyed in Lebanon. This is the inheritance, of course, of former prime minister, assassinated prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was murdered on the 14th of February last year. He rebuilt this country. He rebuilt the city of Beirut. Now, bit by bit the bridges, the lighthouse, the international airport are being destroyed.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has angrily said, "Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the state of Israel is inflicted on us?" Indeed, it can and will. In fact, the international community, if defined as the powerful G-8, implicitly endorsed the Israeli airstrikes last weekend:

Group of Eight leaders on Sunday blamed extremists for an upsurge of Middle East violence and while accepting Israel's right to defend itself said the Jewish state should exercise "utmost restraint."

Setting out conditions for an end to violence, G8 leaders in summit talks in Russia put the onus on Hizbollah militants to restore peace by releasing abducted Israelis and ending attacks on Israel.

Then the Israeli offensive against Lebanon could end, said the statement.

"These extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos," said the text hammered out by the leaders of the world's richest nations.

In doing so, the G-8 has adopted two very dangerous principles, principles that, if pursued, can only escalate the conflict. First, as surgically expressed by Ahmad Samih Khalidi:

But what is at stake here is not proportionality or the issue of self-defence, but symmetry and equivalence. Israel is staking a claim to the exclusive use of force as an instrument of policy and punishment, and is seeking to deny any opposing state or non-state actor a similar right. It is also largely succeeding in portraying its own "right to self-defence" as beyond question, while denying anyone else the same. And the international community is effectively endorsing Israel's stance on both counts.

From an Arab point of view this cannot be right. There is no reason in the world why Israel should be able to enter Arab sovereign soil to occupy, destroy, kidnap and eliminate its perceived foes - repeatedly, with impunity and without restraint - while the Arab side cannot do the same. And if the Arab states are unable or unwilling to do so then the job should fall to those who can.

Khalidi also recognizes, as already discussed here, the dangerous, paradoxical consequences of the perceived omnipotence of the IDF:

Some of this has to do with the paradox of power: the stronger the Israeli army becomes, the more susceptible and vulnerable it becomes to even a minor setback. The loss of even one tank, the capture of one soldier or damage done to one warship has a negative-multiplier effect: Israel's "deterrent" power is dented out of all proportion to the act itself. Israel's retaliation is thus partly a matter of restoring its deterrence, partly sheer vengeance, and partly an attempt to compel its adversaries to do its bidding.

The second principle is even more insidious, as bluntly expressed by Tariq Ali:

In Israel's actions today we can detect many of the elements of hubris: an imperial arrogance, a distortion of reality, an awareness of its military superiority, the self-righteousness with which it wrecks the social infrastructure of weaker states, and a belief in its racial superiority. The loss of many civilian lives in Gaza and Lebanon matters less than the capture or death of a single Israeli soldier. In this, Israeli actions are validated by the US.

Ali errs only to the extent that he uncharacteristically limits the approval of Israeli actions to the US. Perhaps, he missed the communique from the G-8, or, possibly, puts a different gloss on it. In any event, Ali's comment echoes what I recently posted here in response to the anniversary of the London transport bombings:

The bombers responded to our violence with their violence, and there is something culturally demeaning in a perspective, as implied by the authors of the report, that Americans and Britains use violence in a calculated way to achieve allegedly acceptable ends, but that Arabs and Muslims merely exploit current events to justify it. In other words, they, unlike us, lack the human qualities of anger, thought and commitment, and indeed, transformation, such that some may have concluded that they only way to confront the perpetrators of the war and occupation, in both Iraq and Palestine, is through violence.

A lamentable, tragic decision, to be sure, but no less so than the ones by Britain and the United States to invade and, apparently, permanently occupy Iraq, and the insistence of Israel to permanently colonize the West Bank and Gaza. And, of course, the dead in Gaza, Ramadi, Haditha, Jenin, Fallujah . . . they are just numbers, if reported at all, and if there have been flowers laid and tears shed, as they justifiably have been for the victims of 7/7/05, it has failed to capture our imagination.

It is certainly one of the great historical tragedies that Zionism is violently consuming itself in Lebanon and Gaza, killing anyone misfortunate enough to be within the presence of its death throes. It is even more grotesque, however, that the G-8 has voluntarily aligned itself with the psychosis. Needless to say, the consequences could be dire, with the prospect of war with Iran and Syria looming over the horizon, and a newly motivated generation of al-Qaeda suicide bombers.

It increasingly appears that only the defeat of the IDF in southern Lebanon, or, at least, an inconclusive result, can avoid it. Preliminary reports indicate that neither of these outcomes are implausible, if one considers that an IDF military operation that was initially planned to be quick is now, like a Barbarossa in miniature, stretching out from days to weeks, with Hizbullah showing resilience. IDF claims that it has destroyed 50% of Hizbullah's rockets and missiles are rather disquieting given that the British have not recognized any significant degradation of Hizbullah's military capabilities.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

High-Tech Feudalism with Chinese Characteristics 

UPDATE 2: For a fascinating series of photographs that brings out the dignity of Chinese industrial workers, check out the work of Zhouhai at his site entitled, The Unbearable Heaviness of Industry.

UPDATE 1: If you would like to hear Professor Kwong, referenced in this post, speak at length about current social conditions in China, you can hear an interview of him by myself and my co-host, Ron Glick, on KDVS 90.3 FM Davis by clicking here. The format is MP3 and the interview will only be available until this Friday, July 21st at 5:00 p.m.

INITIAL POST: Every day, every hour, it continues, regardless of airstrikes in Lebanon, missile attacks in Haifa or electoral protest marches in Mexico. The industrial colossus of the world, southern China, disgorges goods of every kind for shipment all over the world, many of them technologically sophisticated. As Isabel Hilton described it in a seminal article in the Spring 2005 issue of Granta, entitled Made in China:

Today, Shenzhen, a city of nearly five million people, sits at the border. The hinterland behind Shenzhen, the Pearl River Delta, is the heart of the fastest growing industrial zone in the world, the Chinese province of Guangdong. This is the landscape that produces two-thirds of the world's photocopiers, microwave ovens, DVD players and shoes, more than half of the world's digital cameras and two-fifths of its personal computers. Guangdong's business is to make things. It sucks manufacturing from Europe and North America and other economies with high wage rates, cheapens it, increases it, then ships it by container to overseas markets. The factories here bear no relationship to the ones that I knew thirty years ago in Shanghai. It is as different as Manchester in the 1840s was from rural England in the eighteenth century and to come here is to feel a little of what Friedrich Engels felt when he set out to describe Manchester, the world's first uncompromisingly industrial city. Here, too, the visitor marvels at the industrial energy and is appalled by the degrading conditions in which the workers live. "In this place," as Engels put it, "the social war, the war of each against all, is here openly declared."

Hilton describes the creation of this Hobbesian world through the allegorical, real-life story of someone she describes as "Mr. Wu":

. . . . But, back in 1989, Shenzhen was still an awkward, half-formed city where fields were still visible from the new buildings. The paved roads ended abruptly at the edge of town. "I wasn't that impressed," Wu said, "Back then, it wasn't as developed as now. The houses weren't that different from where I had come from. There were still fields, still farms." Getting a job proved simple. After a couple of nights in his little brother's factory dormitory, Wu was paid a deposit of thirty yuan, lent to him by his brother, to the Lucky Gem Factory and was taken on. A factory ID came with it so he could move about without fear of arrest.

The factor was in Bailijun Village in Pinfu County, near Shenzhen. It's Hong Kong owner had moved his business here in 1984, but it was still a relatively makeshit affair. He employed around 200 workers to turn out semi-precious jewelry for the lower end of the international market. There were local regulations, including health and safety laws, but no one bothered to enforce them. The boss was often around on the factory floor. "He didn't even have a car in those days," Wu said, "By 1993, he had four--one of them was a Mercedes Benz."

Even so, things went well for Wu and his co-workers, until they were victimized by the consequences of being habitually exposed to the metal particulates generated by jewelry production:

The men who crowded Wu's room no longer worked for Lucky Gem. Wu pointed to a small man who, like the others, had slipped off his sandals at the door and who was now sitting barefoot on the concrete floor, leaning against a wall, his legs stretched out in front of him. His face was pale. Liu Huaquan, Wu said, was the first to fall ill. Liu acknowledged Wu's introduction with a smile--a perverse pride in being the first one afflicted. It was 1999 when his symptoms--breathlessness and coughing--first appeared. They were diagnosed as tuberculosis and for two and half years, he paid 300 yuan--nearly half his wages--for treatment. But his health continued to worsen and when he finally sought a second opinion at the Guangzhou Occupational Diseases Center, he was told he had silicosis.

"I had never heard of it," Liu said,"They said it was an occupational disease and I shouldn't work anymore. They said I should get compensation from the factory. I wanted to work. I still do. I have a wife and two children. But now they ask you for a health certificate and I can't get a job anywhere." His weight had dropped from 121 pounds to ninety and he could barely climb the stairs. Silicosis is incurable, but the right treatment can slow the disease's progression. Liu had received some compensation from a social insurance fund but he could not spend the money on treatment that might slow his decline because he fears that his wife and children would be left destitute.

45 Lucky Gem workers, including Mr. Wu, have been diagnosed with the disease.

By now, most people are familiar with the general outline of the purported Chinese economic miracle, the arrest of the Gang of Four after Mao's death in 1976, the emergence of Deng Xiaoping in a leadership role and his decision to create socialism with Chinese characteristics", or, more simply, a socialist market economy, encapsulated in the slogan, let some get rich first, so others can get rich later.

Mr. Wu and his co-workers are one of the consequences of this failed policy. Some have gotten rich, and remain so, but many, many others have not. But there is more to this outline than what one can readily find at wikipedia. Peter Kwong, a professor at Hunter College at the City University of New York, described his unique personal experience in a recent Counterpunch newsletter article:

In 1980, I was a visiting professor at the People's University in Beijing, which was at the time the elite party cadre training school. In October of that year, the chair of the Scientific Socialism Department informed me that I was given the unique honor, as a China-born foreign expert teaching social sciences, to attend a lecture at at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that was to be given by the Nobel Laureate and America's best selling author of Free to Choose, Milton Friedman. When I arrived at the majestic conference hall, Friedman was already seated at the dais, flanked by top Communist Party officials and ministerial-level officials.

China then proceeded, over the course of the next decade, to implement policies consistent with Friedman's advice to cut taxes, curtail government regulation and reduce labor costs, or, to be more precise, it did so in relation to policies that had historically benefitted workers and peasants, as Chile under Pinochet had also done. The iron rice bowl for workers was shattered, given artistic expression in Wang Bing's monumental documentary, Tie Xu Qu, or West of the Tracks, and peasants were forced from the land to create an enormous cheap labor force for manufacturing and construction.

Kwong walks us through the rest of the tawdry tale, thousands of deaths per year from gas explosions, mine cave-ins and flooding as a result of the failure to enforce labor laws, the creation of a wealthy elite that derives its privileges from its familial relations with senior government and Party officials and the endemic corruption that enrages peasants and workers. He observes:

To call this "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is a joke. Even capitalism is not the appropriate term. A Chinese sociologist has defined it as high tech feudalism with Chinese characteristics.

Not surprisingly, people angrily respond to such conditions. According to Kwong, and confirmed by numerous other media sources, the number of protests is increasing, with intensifying violence associated with both the protests and their suppression. Consider this extraordinary account of a riot in Wangzhou, a city in Sichuan province, in October 2004:

On October 18, the brutal assault of a worker by a government official sparked a riot in Wangzhou, a city in the southwestern province of Sichuan. According to some estimates, up to 80,000 workers and unemployed were involved in a night of clashes and confrontations with thousands of police. Paramilitary units were eventually called in from neighbouring cities to restore order.

The incident that provoked the unrest is a graphic example of the contempt China’s state bureaucracy and capitalist elite has for the working class—especially the millions of so-called migrant workers who have moved from the countryside to the cities in search of jobs.

According to accounts on the Internet, a worker, weighed down with a load of goods across his back, accidentally bumped into the wife of a local taxation bureau director. As he attempted to apologise, the official knocked him to the ground. In front of dozens of stunned onlookers, the official beat the man with a pole, breaking his leg. With the worker lying in agony, the official then proceeded to boast to the crowd that he could have him killed if he wanted. At one point, he offered spectators 20 yuan if they would slap the injured man’s face.

Police, who arrived as the assault was unfolding, shook hands with the official and made clear he would not be arrested. Outraged workers attempted to detain the bureaucrat but he was secreted away by the police.

News of the incident spread quickly throughout the city’s working class districts. By late afternoon, tens of thousands of local residents had rallied outside the Wangzhou city government offices, chanting “hand over the attackers”, “punish the attackers” and “for justice of the injured”.

Workers pelted the riot police protecting the building with rocks and smashed the glass entrance. Police cars were set ablaze. According to the Asia Times: “The character of the demonstration changed from a fight for justice to the expression of anger to the government.” As night fell, thousands of police and paramilitary personnel were deployed to restore order, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstration. Street battles continued until midnight.

The Chinese government attempted to downplay the incident, telling the media that a “misunderstanding” had caused the revolt and that the disturbances only involved “a few illegal elements”.

This incident, as do many others, such as, for example, recent large protests involving students, reveal the depth of anger among much of the populace. Just this week, we learned that even the response to a car accident can spiral out of control:

Social tensions in China are taking on an increasingly explosive form. A riot by 10,000 people triggered by a car accident in the city of Chizhou in Anhui province is the latest case to be reported. Around 3 p.m. on June 26, a Toyota sedan hit a teenage student as he was riding a bike. As the student and driver began to argue, three men emerged from the car and along with the driver began to beat up the student.

A group of taxi drivers tried to help the injured student, insisting on compensation from the driver, who is the owner of a local private hospital. In response, the driver ordered his thugs to attack the taxi drivers with knives. He openly boasted that, even if someone was killed, he would get away with the crime by paying a bribe of 300,000 yuan ($US36,000).

Police arrived on the scene but only escorted the driver and his thugs away. Onlookers were left stunned and angry. Many were outraged at the arrogance of the driver and the indifference of the police to ordinary working people. The incident reinforced their daily experience of the contempt of the newly rich and officialdom towards the lives of the poor.

Word of the incident soon spread to the working class suburbs of the city and by 6 p.m. thousands of people surrounded the local police station. They demanded the police hand over the driver and his thugs, who at that stage had not been charged with any offence, and then flipped over, smashed and torched the Toyota sedan and three police cars.

Firefighters who arrived on the scene quickly fled when confronted by the angry crowd. Police stepped in but were beaten back by the protesters hurling rocks and firecrackers. Power was cut off to the police station, windows broken and firecrackers were thrown inside. The protesters looted a nearby supermarket, partly owned by the Toyota driver. Around midnight, the provincial police chief arrived along with 700 paramilitary police officers in full riot gear and dispersed the protest.

There is an independent trade union movement that is attempting to provide the means for workers to improve their conditions of employment, involving people like Han Dongfang, a prominent participant in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest, known for his efforts then and now to organize workers, as he relates in this engrossing New Left Review interview.

One wonders, however, whether the time for a peaceful evolution has passed, given the intransigence of the regime, the support of international finance capital and the general disinterest of social justice groups in the US. With the exception of the colonial period, China has frequently made its own history, often in a turbulent way, as shown in the 20th Century through the Boxer Rebellion, the May 4th movement, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Some China scholars contend that there is a stubborn tendency towards utopianism in Chinese society that leads to an excessive embrace of new ideas and policies, to the extent that they are adopted ruthlessly and uncritically, only to be abandoned in equally ruthless fashion. Deng's departure from Maoism promised a break with this practice, as did his unceremonial funeral, but his naive enthusiasm for an unfettered crony capitalism in his later years may ultimately be recognized as a poisonous weed that facilitated its return.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

UPDATE: Israel Incinerates Villagers in Southern Lebanon/Chavez Gets It Right 

As posted here yesterday, every Israeli airstrike in Lebanon and Gaza accelerates the collapse of Zionism as a legitimate social endeavor.

Now, there are 106 reportedly dead in Lebanon, overwhelmingly civilians, with 17 people killed Saturday by an Israeli air strike on a convoy of people in southern Lebanon trying to flee the violence:

Women and children were among those killed when the convoy was hit. "Bodies litter the road," an eyewitness said.

Reuters now places the number of dead at 20, reporting that Israel attacked the families of fleeing villagers after previously giving them hours to leave:

The child was holding a sandwich when an Israeli missile killed him and 19 other people fleeing their Lebanese border village in a van.

Two little blackened hands could be seen still clutching the bread to the child's chest when U.N. peacekeepers recovered the corpse along with the bodies of some of the others.

Half the passengers were children or teenagers, according to medical sources.

It was the deadliest single strike since Israel launched an air campaign against Lebanon after two of its soldiers were captured by Hizbollah militants on Wednesday.

Relatives gathered at a hospital to identify the dead said they came from two families -- Abdallah and Ghanem -- and were trying to escape their village of Marwaheen.

The families had fled after the Israeli army told residents they had just hours to leave.

Around 100 residents showed up at a nearby base of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) seeking shelter but went home after officials were unable to confirm the warning by Israel, UNFIL spokesman Milos Strugar told Reuters.

Other residents had tried later to leave and were killed in the missile strike, Strugar said, adding Lebanese authorities had asked UNIFIL to help evacuate 120-160 people remaining in Marwaheen. They would be relocated in the morning.

Relatives blamed UNIFIL for the deaths, pelting peacekeepers with stones when they arrived with the bodies after the strike.

"If they had taken people in to begin with then they would never have died," said Mohammed Oqla, who was at the hospital.

Meanwhile, US fundamentalists, and some Jewish organizations, have expressed their belief that Israel may use force in Lebanon without restraint.

Reminscent of his famous condemnation of the invasion of Afghanistan, where he asserted that we were "fighting terror with terror", Chavez, in his own blunt spoken way, has a different perspective:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday that U.S. backing of Israel is responsible for flaming tensions in the Middle East and putting the world on course toward another "Holocaust."

"The fundamental blame falls again on the U.S. empire. It's the empire that armed and supported the abuses of the Israeli elite, which has invaded, abused and defied the United Nations for a long time," Chavez said in a speech during a military act in Caracas.

"I'll seize this opportunity to condemn categorically and fully the aggression that the Israeli elite is carrying out against innocents over there in the Middle East," he said.

Chavez was referring to a new explosion of Mideast violence this week as Israel Air Force war planes began striking Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others Wednesday in a cross-border raid into Israel. In response, Hezbollah has fired hundreds of rockets at northern Israel.

The Venezuelan leader charged that Israel is using excessive force.

"Are we going to bomb cities and tell them that we won't stop bombing until they return the soldier? That's crazy," he said.

"Worse, it's craziness with nuclear bombs. (The Israelis) have their weapons of mass destruction and nobody criticizes them, nobody says anything because the empire is behind them," Chavez said. Blaming the escalation on Washington's undue influence, Chavez said: "The U.S. empire's desire to dominate has no limits and that could take this world to a real Holocaust. May God save us."

In the short term, there are reports that there are plans to evacuate Americans there. I have heard that there are as many as 25,000, and it would be a good idea to move quickly, as the prospect of hostage taking by Lebanese who are rightly angry about US support for these attacks is a serious one. After all, they must have already thought about seizing Americans and placing them at locations where they anticipate Israeli airstrikes. CNN is now reporting that the US embassy in Beirut in planning an emergency evacuation.

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