Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Absence of Syrian-Israeli Peace Agreement Dangerous for Lebanese

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Absence of Syrian-Israeli Peace Agreement Dangerous for Lebanese

Article excerpt

Absence of Syrian-Israeli Peace Agreement Dangerous for Lebanese

By Stephen J. Sosebee

The July 12 killing of three Lebanese children by the Israeli army demonstrates that despite Mideast peacemaking efforts, a brutal war still is being waged in south Lebanon. The Israeli weapon used to kill siblings Zacharia, Jihan and Silvana Bader, and to injure three other children, was a tank-fired antipersonnel "dart bomb" that sprays 1.5-inch nails. This weapon is illegal under the 1949 Geneva Convention and is designed to inflict horrible injuries on anyone within a wide radius of its impact.

Though the United Nations Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) protested the use of these shells by Israel, little attention was paid by the Arab governments seemingly bent on making peace with Israel at any cost. "What cannot be excused or accepted is the Arab silence when it comes to attacks on Lebanon, especially as Lebanon is part of a mutual defense pact," fumed Lebanese Defense Minister Mohsen Dalloul.

In recent months, the 1,000 Israeli soldiers and nearly 3,000 South Lebanon Army (SLA) troops who occupy Israel's nine-mile-wide "security zone" carved out of Lebanese territory have increased their military operations against Lebanese and Palestinian targets in south Lebanon.

SLA troops, who are paid by the Israeli government, have been employed by the Israelis in Lebanon before and ever since 1982 to assist in the occupation of the south. SLA members also participated in the massacre of Palestinian men, women and children after the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps were surrounded by Israeli troops when they occupied West Beirut in the summer of 1982.

The current increased Israeli military activity may be designed to pressure Syria, with 35,000 troops in Lebanon, to come to the negotiating table. The upsurge in fighting comes two years after a large-scale invasion of south Lebanon by the Israeli army.

In July 1993, after several successful ambushes by Lebanese Hezbollah militiamen against Israeli occupation forces in the south, the Israel Defense Forces broke out of their so-called "security zone" and drove over a half million Arab refugees north to Beirut. More than 300 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were killed in what Israel called "Operation Accountability." The invasion ended only after the United States and the Arab League brokered the unofficial "Damascus Agreement" in which Hezbollah, the main Lebanese resistance force in the south, and Israel agreed to refrain from attacking civilian areas on either side of the 15-kilometer security zone.

Despite diplomatic efforts to confine the fighting to the security zone, the war in south Lebanon has taken a huge human toll on a small population. In 1993, 512 Arab civilians were killed in the fighting in the south, while 25 Israeli soldiers and 31 SLA personnel were killed. In 1994, 354 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were killed, despite the Damascus Agreement, while 21 Israeli soldiers and 39 SLA troops were killed.

The war in south Lebanon has taken a huge human toll.

Increased military success by Hezbollah and the prospects of an eventual peace between Israel and Syria have resulted in a severe morale problem within the SLA. In February, 13 of 17 Israeli cabinet ministers made an unprecedented visit to the town of Marjaiyun where the SLA is headquartered.

"It is the belief among many that when Israel and Syria finally make peace, it will be at the expense of Israel's proxy militia in the south," explained Mahmoud Mohammed, a former professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. "They fear severe retribution from Hezbollah for collaborating with the Israeli occupiers."

Alleging "harassment" of SLA personnel by the Hezbollah militia, Israel began a sea blockade of the southern Lebanese ports of Sidon and Tyre in February. …

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