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Israeli forces step up ground war in Lebanon
Bombing of housing complex kills dozens
Getty images/ Marco Di Lauro
Residents of Aitaroun, village near Bint Jbail, flee August 1 in face of Tel Avivs bombing campaign in southern Lebanon. Bint Jbail was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting between Israeli ground troops and Hezbollah-led forces.
BY MICHAEL ITALIE
August 1Seeking to deal a decisive blow to the Hezbollah militia based in southern Lebanon and unable to do so in a brutal three-week aerial bombing of the country, the Israeli government has begun a large-scale ground assault. The attack has been concentrated in a 20-mile region from the Israeli border to the banks of the Litani River in Lebanon.
Military sources in Tel Aviv said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) now would make a concerted effort to achieve ground success through operations that the army has avoided until now, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported August 1. Five brigade-level commandsmore than twice the number of forces operating in the area thus farwill operate in southern Lebanon.
That force was reportedly involved in fierce combat in the southern Lebanese town of Ayta a-Shab. Three Israeli soldiers were reported killed in the fighting and 25 wounded August 1.
At this very moment army brigades are advancing in south Lebanon to annihilate the terror infrastructure there, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said in a July 31 speech. Olmert stressed that there is no cease-fire and there will be no cease-fire in the coming days. Tel Aviv has called up as many as 30,000 reserve troops.
On the same day, U.S. president George Bush in an interview on FOX News gave the nod to the stepped up ground invasion. Stopping for the sake of stopping…wont address the root cause of the problem, which Bush said is armed militias firing rockets from a sovereign nation into another sovereign nation.
A day earlier, one of the bloodiest chapters in Israels air campaign unfolded.
The Israeli air forcewhich has carried out 4,500 sorties in the first two-weeks of the offensive alonebombed an apartment building in Qana July 30, causing it to collapse and crush dozens of civilians seeking shelter in the basement, many of them children. The ages of those who died reportedly ranged from 10 months to 95 years.
This is not Tel Avivs first bloody bombing in Qana. On April 18, 1996, Israeli forces bombed a refugee camp there, killing 102 of 750 Lebanese who had fled from a brutal Israeli bombing attack. Then as now the Israeli government claimed it was responding to attacks from the area by Hezbollah forces.
Tel Aviv began its assault on Lebanon on July 12. Using the pretext of the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, Israeli officials announced their aim to rapidly break the back of the organization with a massive bombing campaign. Hezbollah demanded the release of some of the thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners held by the Israeli government in exchange for the captured soldiers.
While leaving more than 500 dead, thousands wounded, displacing more than 750,000, and destroying substantial infrastructure in the nation of 4 million, the 20-day bombing of Lebanon has not achieved Israels stated objectives.
What was clearly conceived two weeks ago as a quick battle using air power and strikes on specific targets with commando raids to degrade Hezbollahs resources, John Kifner pointed out in the July 30 New York Times, has turned into a crisis.
Contrasting the myth of invincibility that the Israeli government promotes with the reality on the ground in Lebanon, Kifner noted that in Bint Jbail, a town the Israelis said they controlled, a well-laid Hezbollah ambush pinned down infantrymen from the elite Golani Brigade for hours. At times the firing was so heavy the brigades soldiers could not return it; eight Israelis were killed. The highly advanced Merkava tanks were reduced to ambulances and several were destroyed.
A wide range of editorials in U.S. and Israeli newspapersfrom the Wall Street Journal to the Jerusalem Posthave used these examples to press for a full ground invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon.
We hope that, while Ms. [Condoleezza] Rice pursues diplomatic options, privately Mr. Bush is telling Mr. Olmert that Israel must finish the job he started against Hezbollahincluding a ground invasion of southern Lebanon if thats what it takes, the Wall Street Journal editorialized August 1.
This would be the third time Israel has carried out such an invasion. In March 1978, a force of 25,000 Israeli soldiers invaded and occupied southern Lebanon up to the Litani River, withdrawing three months later. Then in 1982, Israel launched an all-out invasion, which at its height involved more than 60,000 Israeli troops. Israeli forces penetrated deep into the country and laid siege to Beirut. Following that war, Israel remained in Lebanon for 18 years, occupying a so-called buffer zone in southern Lebanon until 2000.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese organization based in the southern part of the country, emerged in the mid-1980s in the struggle against the Israeli occupation. In addition to its powerful militia in the south, Hezbollah has 14 seats in the Lebanese parliament.
Calls for peacekeepers
At a July 28 press conference with British prime minister Anthony Blair, President George Bush said, A multinational force must be dispatched to Lebanon quickly, to augment a Lebanese army as it moves to the south of the country.
It is not yet clear what countries would make up this force and when it might be deployed. U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice told reporters that the force would work with the government of Lebanon to disarm armed groups and enforce an international embargo against arms deliveries to any entity other than the Lebanese government.
The Lebanese government, whose ministers include two supporters of Hezbollah, has indicated support for its deployment. The Israeli government says it will continue its operations in Lebanon until such a force is deployed.
War in Gaza
Meanwhile, Israel has continued its assault on the Gaza Strip, a territory controlled by the Palestinian National Authority that is home to 1.3 million Palestinians. According to the United Nations, Israeli forces killed 22 Palestinians in Gaza July 26the highest one-day toll yet since Tel Aviv began its assault there on June 28. Israeli forces are firing an average of 200-250 artillery shells on the territory each day and have conducted more than 200 airstrikes since the operation began.
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