Nearly 400 people have now died in Lebanon since Israel began attacking the country 13 days ago. Over 1,000 have been wounded and as many as 900,000 have been displaced from their homes.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Beirut today and is scheduled to go to Israel. The Bush administration is still refusing to back an immediate ceasefire. On Friday Rice described the plight of Lebanon as part of the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.”
The United States is helping to restock Israel’s military arsenal. The New York Times reports the Bush administration has agreed to send a rush delivery of satellite and laser-guided bombs to Israel. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz says Israeli officials believe they have approval from the United States to keep attacking Lebanon for at least another week. However Britain has broken ranks with Washington.
Britain’s Foreign Office Minister, Kim Howells publicly criticized Israel’s military tactics and urged the United States to 'understand' the price being paid by ordinary Lebanese civilians. Meanwhile Syria and Saudi Arabia have offered to help secure peace plans.
On Sunday the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland toured Beirut and condemned Israel’s actions as violations of humanitarian law.
Reports out of Lebanon indicate Israel is widening its assault. Israeli ground troops have seized the Lebanese hilltoptown of Marun al-Ras. Heavy fighting was reported this morning between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters. Over the weekend Israeli warplanes knocked down telecommunication towers handling much of Lebanon’s cell phone, television and radio communications. A technician working for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation was killed. In a separate attack a 23-year-old photojournalist named Layal Najib was killed by an Israeli missile. She worked for the Lebanese magazine al-Jaras and Agence France Press. Refugees fleeing southern Lebanon have repeatedly come under attack. On Sunday an Israeli helicopter fired at a minivan carrying 16 civilians. Three people died. All of the passengers were fleeing the village of Tairi, which Israeli forces had ordered residents to evacuate. Reuters is reporting six Lebanese Red Cross paramedics were wounded late on Sunday when Israeli warplanes hit their vehicles. On Sunday Israel also bombed the southern port city of Sidon for the first time. Thousands of refugees had been seeking shelter there. Early this morning the Israeli military shelled a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon. One local hospital in the southern city of Tyre received 41 wounded patients on Sunday. All of the casualties are believed to be civilians who were attacked while trying to seek safety. The hospital’s director said: This is the worst day we’ve seen. The death toll in Tyre has been so high that carpenters are reportedly running out of wood for coffins. Bodies are stacked three or four high in a truck at the hospital morgue. Peter Bouckart of Human Rights Watch said “They have been hitting civilian cars all over the place. I have been in many war zones, but this is one of the most dangerous places I have seen.”
In Sidon, a top city official, Abdul Rahman Al-Bisri, said the area urgently needs assistance.
The United Nations refugee agency announced on Sunday that tons of humanitarian aid material have been stuck in Syria because there is no safe route to reach people driven from their homes. 80 percent of Lebanon’s highways and 95 percent of bridges have been damaged.
International protests against the Israeli war on Lebanon continued over the weekend — including in Israel. More than 2,500 rallied on Saturday in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile the Israeli press has reported Israel has begun building news detention centers to jail anyone captured in Lebanon. Israel is already imprisoning about 11,000 Palestinians.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that the current Israeli offensive against the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah would “last a very long time.”
Over the weekend Hezbollah continued to fire rockets into northern Israel. Two residents of Haifa were killed in a rocket attack on Sunday. So far Hezbollah has killed 17 Israeli civilians. About 20 Israeli soldiers have also died fighting in Lebanon. Dan Gillerman, Israeli’s ambassador to the United Nations, said Hezbollah must be destroyed.
Israel has suggested it may back a plan for international troops to patrol southern Lebanon.
Meanwhile the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting Israel’s attack on Lebanon is based on well-developed plans. More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail. In his talks, the officer described a three-week campaign which involved ground troops being sent in during the third week.
In Gaza, Israeli warplanes bombed a series of buildings overnight suspected of being used by Palestinian militants. Over the past three weeks about 115 Palestinians have been killed. A majority of them have been civilians.
In other news from Israel — doctors say the condition of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has worsened. He has been in a coma for six months.
In Iraq, a series of car bombs killed about 60 people on Sunday. 36 civilians died in a marketplace bombing in Sadr City. Another 20 civilians died in the northern city of Kirkuk after a car bomb exploded outside a courthouse. Saturday was also a bloody day in Baghdad. Two American soldiers were killed , seven Shiite construction workers were gunned down and five Sunni civilians were blown up. The bombings came as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was preparing to travel to London and Washington to meet with Tony Blair and President Bush. In London al-Maliki condemned Israel’s destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure and vowed to push for a ceasefire. British reporter Patrick Cockburn says Iraqis are terrified in a way that he has never seen over the past three decades. The United Nations estimates that 6,000 civilians were killed in Iraq in May and June but Cockburn says the violence has been far worse during the past month.
Meanwhile Iraq’s parliament speaker Mahmud Mashhadani accused U.S. forces in Iraq of butchery. At a UN-sponsored conference on reconciliation, Mashhadani said “Just get your hands off Iraq and the Iraqi people and Muslim countries, and everything will be all right.” He went on to say “What has been done in Iraq is a kind of butchery of the Iraqi people.” Mashhadani also criticized US support for the Israeli attacks against Lebanon.
Here in the United States, four U.S. Army soldiers accused of murdering three Iraqis have said they did so under orders to “kill all military age males.” Lawyers for the soldiers say that two senior officers — a colonel and a captain — have acknowledged that they gave that order. The soldiers are accused of detaining three Iraqi men and then allowing them to be released before shooting them. One of the soldiers claims a sergeant was upset that the Iraqi men had been captured. The sergeant reportedly said “Why did you take them prisoner? Why didn’t you kill them?” Legal experts say an order to kill all military-age men would be clearly unlawful, and any officer giving it would be liable for any action taken.
In other news from Iraq, ousted president Saddam Hussein was hospitalized over the weekend. He has been on a 17-day hunger strike to protest his trial. His lawyers say the U.S. military is now force feeding him. Three of his seven co-defendants have joined him in refusing food.
The largest lawyers group in the country is warning that President Bush is undermining the constitution by claiming he has the authority to ignore laws passed by Congress. A new report by the American Bar Association criticizes the president’s use of what’s known as signing statements. Since he took office President Bush has issued over 750 signing statements — more than any president ever. ABA President Michael Greco said “We will be close to a constitutional crisis if this issue, the president’s use of signing statements, is left unchecked.” Bush has used signing statements to challenge laws including a congressional ban on torture, a request for data on the USA Patriot Act, whistle-blower protections and the banning of U.S. troops fighting in Colombia.
In Mexico, 10 gunmen wearing ski masks attacked a student-run university radio station in Oaxaca on Sunday. Shots were fired at the station but no one was injured. The station has supported community protests against Oaxaca’s state governor. Some accused the governor — Ulises Ruiz — of being behind the attack. Dozens of teachers, students and activists are now guarding the radio station.
Meanwhile Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met this weekend in Argentina. Chavez and Castro made a pilgrimage to the childhood home of Che Guevara.
A new report from Amnesty International says security agents in Jordan are torturing suspects on behalf of the United States in hopes of forcing confessions. Amnesty investigators had identified about 10 suspected cases of men subjected to rendition from U.S. custody to interrogation centers in Jordan, a close U.S. ally in the Middle East. Amnesty described Jordan as a central hub in a global complex of secret detention centers operated by the U.S.