For the sixth straight day, Lebanon found itself under attack from Israel, which is retaliating against the capture of its soldiers by Hezbollah militants. As deaths mounted, Lebanese citizens fled major cities while Israel targeted ports, highways, and other infrastructure, as well as Hezbollah strongholds. World leaders urged a cease-fire, and several foreign nations began the daunting process of evacuating their citizens.
At last count, the death toll of Lebanese noncombatants is at least 196, with Reuters reporting that perhaps 14 militants have also been killed. Along with the destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure, an air, sea, and land blockade is making evacuations of foreign nationals difficult if not impossible. On Monday, several civilians were killed while attempting to cross a bridge to escape the bloodshed.
At the heart of the matter is a stalemate in the peace process. Israeli demands for a cease-fire include the return of the two captured soldiers and a Hezbollah pullback across the Litani River, which has long been the centerpiece of a border conflict between the two nations. It is widely believed that some military operations are an attempt to re-institute a buffer zone that existed during the latter stages of the 18-year Israeli occupation of Lebanon. On Sunday, Israeli ground forces briefly moved into southern Lebanon during an attack on Hezbollah sites. According to an unnamed Israeli army official, the Israel Defense Forces claimed to have cleared a large area in southern Lebanon of Hezbollah fighters.
Hezbollah says it is solely interested in a prisoner swap. Although Israel has exchanged prisoners in the past, this time it has rejected that option. Israel has offered to discontinue its offensive only when the soldiers are returned.
World leaders have called for an immediate end to the current hostilities, with many supporting an international peacekeeping team. French President Jacques Chirac went so far as to chastise Israel, calling the attacks “aberrant,” and Russian President Vladimir Putin has openly wondered if there are other motives behind the actions. However, many in the world community have asked Israel to use “restraint” while adding that Israel has a right to self-defense.
Analysis by Margaret Griffis for Antiwar.com