Monday, July 31, 2006

From Qana to a Sustainable Peace in the Mideast

The continuous Israeli military offensive in southern Lebanon provoked by Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers has not stopped even though many countries in both Arab and non-Arab world have condemned the actions. This IDF military operation to “root out Hezbollah from Lebanon” has killed more than 500 civilians in Lebanon, injuring and displacing thousands others from the comfort of their homes. The latest and bloodiest attack occurred last Sunday when Israeli bombs reduced the buildings that housed refugees from other villages and cities in the village of Qana in southern Lebanon into ruble. Fifty-four civilians were reportedly killed, 37 of them children.

If the initial military offensive by Israel received mild and reluctant condemnation from the international community, this brutal killing of innocent civilians, mostly children who were asleep when the bombs landed, has received unequivocal condemnation and calls for immediate ceasefire from all corners of the globe but the USA. President Bush, speaking in Florida on Monday, said Israel had the right to defend itself and called on Iran and Syria to stop aiding Hezbollah. He further elaborated that there could be no cease-fire until Hezbollah was reined in and international borders respected, reiterating the U.S. stance on the conflict.

Israel, while regretting the loss of civilian lives, maintained that the Hezbollah fighters have used Qana to launch rocket attacks on northern Israel and that enough warning had been given to innocent civilians by way of air-dropped pamphlets. Thus they pleaded innocent and justified the attacks on Qana and blamed Hezbollah for this “accident”. Furthermore, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel would not agree to an immediate cease-fire and planned to expand military operations in Lebanon.

Reacting to this tragedy, Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora issued a statement describing the event as an “Israeli massacre”. He went even further by denying US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was scheduled to arrive in Beirut on Sunday, from visiting Lebanon until the announcement of an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

India, a country known to be having close relation with the region but which has so far been reluctant to strongly condemn the Israeli military operation in southern Lebanon because Tel Aviv claimed they were acting against sponsors of terrorism, issued its strongest statement of condemnation on the Qana tragedy. New Delhi slammed Israel’s Sunday massacre in Qana and termed it as “continued irresponsible and indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon by the Israeli military, ignoring calls for restraint”. If in its earlier statement India said to have only regretted Israel’s “disproportionate” reaction to Hezbollah’s attacks, it now called for “an immediate and unconditional ceasefire”.

In Indonesia, the government strongly condemned the Israeli airstrike on Qana in southern Lebanon. It further said that the tragedy has strengthened the urgent need for an immediate cease-fire in the region and the best way to stop this from happening again is for Israel to end its military operations.

Post Qana massacre, Israel announced a 48 hours halt to its aerial strike on Lebanon in order to conduct a probe on Sunday’s Qana tragedy and provide safe passage to stranded Lebanese in southern Lebanon to leave for safer place. The UNSC immediately held a meeting to discuss the possibility of setting up a new peacekeeping force in the region. But, less than 24 hours after the Qana bombing, Israel has resumed its military operation in southern Lebanon thus dimming the hope of any early solution to the crisis.

The quick turns of events in this Israel – Hezbollah conflict has definitely affected the possibility of creating a “sustainable” ceasefire in the region. The assurance by Ms. Rice that a resolution to the conflict could be reached by this week becomes meaningless when her boss in Washington and the Israeli government have insisted on reining in on Hezbollah first before any ceasefire could be called. At the same time, Hezbollah and its supporters would never let this scenario to happen and they will fight till the end.

This gloomy scenario is really disturbing. If the crisis continues many more civilians will be killed and peace in the region would become elusive. If only a “new Middle East” scripted by the US could be achieved, it would be very gloomy and bloody. Terrorism would escalate even further and civilians would suffer the most and become the victims in the conflicts. The current events in Iraq mirror the possible future in the region.

To avoid this worse case scenario, the international community must immediately work together through international organization like the UN to give a unified voice of concern and pressure to the US and Israel to end the crisis. The US can make or break any collaborative efforts to solve the crisis. The failure of Rome meeting last week was an example of US importance in this matter. At the same time, exclusion of Hezbollah in the meeting was a mistake.

Thus, to reach any meaningful result there should be some serious diplomatic engagement to all parties involve in the conflict. Once a common ground has been achieved, restraint and ceasefire that would lead to a long lasting, or sustainable peaceful agreement, could as well be achieved. Qana tragedy should become a grim reminder that a continuing crisis in the region will only kill more innocent civilians and instability.

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