U.S. Position on Lebanon 'Defies Comprehension'

In the early hours of Sunday, an Israeli air strike at a housing complex on the south Lebanon village of Qana killed about 60 civilians, including at least 37 children. According to the Israeli Army, the intended target was a missile launch site operated by the Islamic militant group Hezbollah. But the strike missed its target and destroyed an adjacent building.

The civilian death toll in Lebanon continues to rise in the face of the unrelenting Israeli onslaught that began July 12. Even though Hezbollah continues to fire missiles across the Lebanese border into Israel, we are outraged by Israel’s military excesses.

Last week, four United Nations peacekeepers, including a Canadian and a Chinese, were killed when a U.N. outpost in the town of Khiam was hit by an Israeli strike. It was only natural that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan bitterly denounced Israel for these two air strikes.

Qana was the site of a massacre in 1996, dubbed the Holocaust of Qana. An Israeli air strike killed over 100 displaced Lebanese citizens who had taken refuge at a U.N. facility. Sunday’s massacre was the second for Qana in 10 years.

With gruesome images of the victims of Sunday’s tragedy now circulating around the world, shock and anger are spreading throughout the Middle East. Any further escalation of conflict and confusion must be contained.

In the wake of Sunday’s fiasco, Israel announced a 48-hour suspension of air strikes, claiming time out is needed to ascertain why the strike missed its mark, as well as to let local residents flee to safety.

But 48 hours is clearly not enough. Israel should extend the duration. And Hezbollah, too, must reciprocate by refraining from firing missiles into Israel.

The U.N. Security Council has a heavy responsibility to fulfill in guiding this moratorium so that it evolves into a permanent truce. France is moving for a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire and the dispatch of an international peacekeeping force, and other European nations and the Arab world are basically in step with France.

What defies our comprehension is the attitude of the United States. While we give Washington credit for exerting pressure on Israel into suspending the air strikes, we take strong exception to its refusal to denounce Israel in the declaration of the Security Council president. Also baffling is Washington’s wariness about calling for an immediate cease-fire.

From the standpoint of its war against terror, Washington obviously has no problem with Israel’s attacks against Hezbollah. But as Israel continues to pound Lebanon with a ferocity that far exceeds self-defense, moderate Arab nations and European nations are growing increasingly critical of the United States.

If nothing is done, international solidarity, already been badly shaken by the mess in Iraq, will finally crumble. Anti-American sentiment will escalate further, and the hoped-for “democratization of the Middle East” will remain nothing more than a pipe dream.

Any deterioration of U.S. leadership in the region will have a negative impact on international efforts to get Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment program. By extension, it could also throw cold water on attempts to resolve the impasse with North Korea over its nuclear weapons and other programs.

The Israeli government says it will continue its military campaign against Lebanon for at least another 10 days, in an effort to rid the boarder area of Hezbollah.

The world must not allow Israel to go ahead. The United States must take immediate steps to persuade Israel to stop the battle and support an early adoption of a Security Council resolution.

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