Four UN observers die in Israeli air strike as heavy fighting continues in Lebanon


By Donald Macintyre in Avivim, northern Israel 
Published: 26 July 2006 

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article1197265.ece

Four United Nations observers were killed last night
in an Israeli raid on their post at the border town of
Khiam in south Lebanon. The UN secretary general
suggested last night that it had been deliberately
targeted. 

The observers, said by Lebanese officials to have been
an Austrian, a Canadian, a Chinese and a Finn, were
killed when the post's building and shelter were
bombed. 

Milos Struger, the spokesman for the United Nations
Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil), the 28-year
old-year old peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, said
rescue workers had to dig through the rubble but that
Israeli fire " continued even during the rescue
operation". 

In Rome, where he had been discussing the 14-day-old
conflict with Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of
State, and Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese Prime Minister
Mr Annan protested at what he called the "apparently
deliberate targeting" by the Israel Defence Forces of
the post and demanded a full investigation. There was
no immediate comment from the IDF. 

Israel has long criticised Unifil for being
"innefective" and not standing up to Hizbollah. Beside
triggering a probable wave of international protest,
the deaths of the four observers may complicate
further the search for a ceaefire agreement under
which a multinational force would take over control of
the southern border areas of Lebanon. 

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, also
warned that the conflict between Lebanon and Israel
could trigger "a hurricane" of broader fighting in the
Middle East. Iran is a major backer of Hizbollah and a
sworn enemy of Israel. In his comments, he referred to
a proverb that says: " He who raises the wind will get
a hurricane." He added: "That proverb fully relates to
the Middle East, which is a very volatile region. And
it will be a strong hurricane which will strike really
hard." 

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, facing popular anger over
Israel's offensive, toughened their stance yesterday
warning the US that Israeli militarism could lead to a
wider conflict in the region. 

Meanwhile, Da'aa Abbas, 15, became the fourth Arab
Israeli to die in the conflict  killed in the Galilee
village of Maghar as Hizbollah launched 90 to 100
rockets at northern Israel. 

Amir Peretz, the Israeli Defence Minister, said Israel
will enforce a " security zone" in southern Lebanon
until such time as a multinational force moves in to
control the Lebanese border area. The remarks by Mr
Peretz appeared to set the seal on Israel's conversion
to the idea of a Western-led international military
deployment to keep Hizbollah guerrillas from
threatening Israel, if and when the still slow-moving
diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire succeed. 

Beirut was heavily bombarded from the air yesterday
after Israeli military aircraft killed six people in
the southern Lebanese city of Nabatiyeh, and Israeli
troops sealed off the town of Bint Jbeil, 15 miles
farther south, which it regards as a Hizbollah
stronghold. 

Ms Rice said yesterday, after meeting Ehud Olmert, the
Israeli Prime Minister, in Israel that any Lebanon
ceasefire would have to be " enduring" as well as
urgent, and that the US was seeking a "new Middle
East". 

Ms Rice, who arrived in Rome last night to meet
European and Arab leaders, supposedly to thrash out
terms of a putative ceasefire, said there was " no
desire" on the part of US officials to come back weeks
or months after a ceasefire because, she implied,
Hizbollah had again found a way to undermine it. 

Her remarks came as Javier Solana, the European
Union's foreign affairs envoy, said he would be
calling for a "ceasefire process" at the summit, and
added that European countries would have to take part.
" Without European, without some Europeans, the force
will not exist," he said. 

There have been suggestions in Israel that such a
force, which it would prefer to be under the aegis of
Nato, would require 20,000 troops  twice as many as
the deployment being talked about in Western capitals.
While Mr Solana did not say so, France has been seen
as a potential contributor. 

Mr Solana refrained from saying he would call for an
"immediate ceasefire"  apparently out of deference to
Britain, which has joined the US in refraining from
such a demand. 

Israeli officials have suggested that the US has
informally given licence to Israel to maintain its
assault in Lebanon until at least the beginning of
next week. 

The death of the Arab Israel girl came amid continuing
indications from Israeli officers, and troops at the
border, of the stiff resistance put up by Hizbollah to
the tank and infantry incursions into southern Lebanon
over the past few days. Heavy fighting around the
village of Maroun ar-Ras cost the lives of seven
Israeli soldiers at the end of last week. 

Brigadier General Shuki Shachar, the deputy head of
the Israeli Defence Forces northern command, said the
army had taken the "high positions" around Beit Jbeil
to pursue its operations against Hizbollah rather than
occupying the town itself after persuading most of its
20,000 civilians to leave. He said the civilians would
not be allowed back as long as Hizbollah threatened
Israel. Major Eran Carraso, who served in Lebanon
before the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, said the
effectiveness of Hizbollah forces had notably
improved. 

A 21-year-old tank commander who had just spent 80
hours in Lebanon and gave only his first name, Erez,
said the operation had been very different from his
service in the West Bank. But he insisted that
Hizbollah fighters were " cowards" because they fired
missiles and then went into hiding. 

One of the more remarkable sights on the border
yesterday was the return of a foot patrol with llamas,
which the Israeli army recently decided were
especially suitable beasts of burden for operations
inside the hilly terrain of southern Lebanon. 

The mounting toll 

* Number of Lebanese people killed in the two-week
conflict: 422, of whom 375 were civilians. 

* A further 27 Hizbollah guerrillas have been killed
and 20 Lebanese soldiers. 

* Number of Israeli dead since the conflict began: 42,
of whom 18 were civilians and 24 soldiers. 

* Number of Palestinians killed by Israel in the Gaza
Strip since the capture of Cpl Gilad Shalit: 121. 

* Number of Israeli air strikes on Lebanon yesterday:
100. 

* Hizbollah rockets fired yesterday: 80. 

* The Israel Defence Force claimed yesterday to have
hit 10 Hizbollah buildings. 

* That adds up to an estimated $1bn ($600m) in damage
to infrastructure. 

* Number of Lebanese bridges destroyed: 105 

* The number of Israeli bridges destroyed: 0. 

* Number of Lebanese ports bombed: 3. 

* Estimate of the number of Lebanese people displaced
in the fighting: 750,000. 

* Lebanon has 2,000 UN troops who have been in the
south since 1978. 

* The value of arms exported to Israel from the UK in
the past 18 months: 25m. 

* The number of Britons evacuated from Lebanon by
yesterday evening: 2,526. 

* Israel's military spending: $9.45bn (in 1995);
Lebanon: $540 








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