Rice Ultimatum To Lebanon Undermined

Rice Ultimatum to Lebanon undermined by Maliki
Israelis Kill 7 Civilians Monday in 40 Bombing Raids

The LA Times reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki broke ranks again with Washington on Monday, strongly criticizing Israel’s destruction of Lebanon’s ports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure and warning that it will lead to further extremism i the Middle East:

‘ In London, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki broke ranks with his U.S. and British allies and warned that the continued international tolerance of civilian casualties in Lebanon would spread extremism that could endanger Arab regimes throughout the Middle East. “I am afraid there will be a great push toward fundamentalism, and also a message — a negative one — to all those who want to follow the course of peace,” Maliki said. “We will go back to zero — to actions and reactions.” ‘

In a sign that the war is going badly for Israel, US Secretary of State Condi Rice made a surprise visit to Beirut on Monday. She came, however, not to be helpful, but to act as a courier, delivering Israel’s ultimatum to Hizbullah. The message was that Hizbullah must turn over the two captured Israeli troops in its possession and withdraw its troops and weaponry some 15 miles from the Israeli border. (The vast majority of Hizbullah’s katyusha rockets only have a range of 3 or 4 miles, so most would become useless in the struggle with Israel over the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms if Hizbullah did move them back that far.)

The meeting was reportedly tense. Rice proffered “support” to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, but not a ceasefire, which is what he really needs to keep his government from collapsing–and he testily told her so. She said she regretted the humanitarian situation (caused by America’s ally with billions in American-supplied armaments), but the US is offering only $30 million in aid (billions of dollars of damage have been done to Lebanon by Israel, most of it unrelated to Hizbullah). She delivered her ultimatum to Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament and a leading secular Shiite politician who has an alliance of convenience with Hizbullah. Berri angrily rejected her terms and riposted that no negotiations would happen without there first being a ceasefire. He was relaying to her Hizbullah’s position.

Rice’s visit showed how low American stock has fallen in the Middle East, since she came virtually empty-handed, merely as a go-fer on behalf of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with little positive to offer. Berri thunderously rejected her ultimatums, or rather those of her political bosses. She came with nice words but Israeli bombs hit Beirut before and after her visit, according to my sources. Her professions of sympathy rang hollow, since her government was encouraging the bombing raids and blocking any UN or European move toward a cease-fire. She played no more exalted a role than Mafia enforcer, lifting her suit coat at the corner to display the loaded pistol as she discussed just how much the owner of the Lebanese restaurant would be paying per month for “protection” from certain of her “friends,” or else, you know, something bad could happen to this nice restaurant of yours.

And, she was undermined by Washington’s warmest ally in the Muslim Middle East, the government of American Iraq, who delivered a message the opposite of her own. He argued for an immediate ceasefire and warned that Israel’s destruction of the infrastructure of a whole country will grow extremism. Al-Maliki is referring to the “boiling” Mahdi Army in Iraq and other such phenomena, which have him in their sights, and maybe American targets as well.

AFP reports that the Israelis launched 40 bombing raids Sunday night into Monday, striking at rocket launchers and other targets, including civilian apartment buildings. in the course of which they killed 7 more Lebanese civilians on Monday. The body of a policemen killed days ago was retrieved from rubble in Baalbak.

In the deep south, the Israelis killed 3 Hizbullah fighters but suffered two dead and 14 wounded themselves (six of the wounded were victims of friendly fire).

Altogether, the Israelis, who announced that they are fighting Hizbullah, have killed only 19 of its fighters. AFP notes, “Of the total 373 people killed in Lebanon since hostilities began nearly two weeks ago, 326 were civilians and 27 were Lebanese soldiers and police. Another 786 civilians and 81 soldiers and policemen have been wounded, as have two members of the UN surveillance force deployed along Lebanon’s southern border.”

Two members of the UN surveillance team? (Late reports say “4”!)

North of Tyre, Israeli missiles “blew apart three adjacent buildings in six raids. Several people were buried in the debris, residents said.” Among the results? “Two brothers, aged 9 and 11, and their uncle were killed in their home. . .”

‘Another resident was killed in a dawn attack on the same village. Two other civilians were killed when their house south of Tyre was destroyed, and an attack on a nearby Palestinian refugee camp killed one of the inhabitants, medical officials said. “I was able to pull out the bodies of my nine-year-old daughter Zeinab and my son Mohammed, 11,” Munzer Mwannes told AFP by telephone from Hallusiyeh as he called for help to try to dig his two other children out from the debris alive. “The body of my brother-in-law has also been retrieved,” added Mwannes, who was wounded along with his wife in the raids. Sobbing, he told how Israeli aircraft swooped at least six times on four three-storey apartment blocks, “the highest in the village”.’

A Palestinian refugee camp?

Down south on the border, the Israelis encountered a deadly attack in Maroun al-Ra’s, the small village (ordinary pop.: 400) they thought they had already conquered. AFP says:

‘ Confrontations again took place inside Marun al-Ras . . . Hezbollah guerrillas came from behind a convoy of Israeli forces in the northern sector of the village, striking a tank which caught fire, they said. The Israeli military said an army helicopter crashed on the Israeli side of the border, killing two servicemen. Hezbollah claimed it had downed the aircraft but Israel said it was an accident.’

Later on Monday or early Tuesday, the Israelis announced that they had fought their way to nearby Bint Jbeil (ordinary pop.: 30,000) and had taken it. Aljazeera was reporting early Tuesday morning, however, that eyewitnesses on the scene were denying that the Israelis were actually in downtown Bint Jbeil, but accepted that they might be in the vicinity. As mentioned above, the Israelis lost 2 dead and 14 wounded in the push toward Bint Jbeil (with another 2 dead in the helicopter crash), and killed 3 Hizbullah fighters. Hizbullah claimed to have destroyed 4 Israeli tanks.

Hizbullah fired 80 rockets into northern Israel on Monday. One person was seriously injured. Others were claimed “wounded,” but since the Israeli authorities have a habit of counting people who come to clinics to report “shock” as “wounded,” I have lost faith in this particular statistic. Thankfully, Monday’s rockets do not appear to have done much damage. Altogether, 41 Israelis have been killed since the fighting started, 17 of them civilians.

Human Rights Watch says that Israel is using cluster bombs in civilian areas, which I consider a war crime.

The Daily Star reports: “The United Nations launched an appeal for $150 million Monday to help provide emergency relief to the estimated 800,000 displaced Lebanese affected by the nearly two-week old conflict.” The number of displaced persons is expected to increase as Israel continues its bombing raids and its incursion in the South.

More on the scale of the human crisis from Brian Whitaker of the Guardian.

Israeli shelling of Gaza on Monday killed 6, including two children.

Najla Said in Beirut.

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