United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan is accusing Israel of what he calls an “apparently deliberate” attack on a UN base in southern Lebanon that killed four UN observers. They were all members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon —-— UNIFIL. According to the UN, Israel continued bombing the base as workers attempted to rescue the victims. Former UNIFIL spokesperson Timur Goksel told Democracy Now! from Beirut the Israeli military must have known they were targeting a UN building. Israel denies the bombing was deliberate.
Israel is also demanding Koffi Annan apologize for accusing it of a deliberate attack. The bombing has added further strain on Israel’s relations with the UN. Israeli and US officials have expressed outrage in recent days over the UN’s criticism of its attack on Lebanon. In an interview with CNN Sunday, UN High Commissioner Louise Arbour suggested Israel’s actions in Lebanon could lead to the prosecution of its military commanders for war crimes.
Meanwhile, the civilian death toll in Israel’s bombing of Lebanon has grown to at least 406. At least twelve people were killed in Israeli air strikes Tuesday, including two parents and their five children in a bombing of their home. Israel resumed heavy bombardment of Beirut, hitting at least ten buildings Tuesday. Israel had halted the attacks while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Beirut on Monday.
Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah is intensifying. Israel is claiming it killed at least two dozen Hezbollah fighters in the last day. Meanwhile, at least twelve Israeli soldiers have been reported killed and twenty-five wounded in an invasion of the town of Bint Jbail, two miles north of the Israel-Lebanon border.
Also Tuesday, Israel announced it would occupy a strip in southern Lebanon even if fighting comes to a halt. Israel says it will hold on to the territory until its troops are replaced by an international force that could confront Hezbollah. The Lebanese government has adopted Hezbollah’s conditions for a ceasefire. The government wants Israel to return the border territory known as Shebaa Farms to Lebanon; release three Lebanese prisoners; end flyovers of Lebanese air space; and provide a map showing the location of Israeli land mines in southern Lebanon. Israel has rejected the conditions and maintains it will continue the attacks until two captured soldiers are released and Hezbollah is removed from parts of southern Lebanon.
Hezbollah continues to launch rockets on Israeli towns. On Tuesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a televised statement threatening deeper missile strikes into Israeli territory. According to the Israeli military, more than 100 rockets were fired Tuesday. The strikes killed at least one person, a teenage Arab-Israeli girl. Several homes were damaged in a Hezbollah strike on a village near Haifa. One of the homeowners had attended an anti-war rally in Tel Aviv earlier this week. The homeowner, Ruthy Gor, told Reuters she remains opposed to the war.
Meanwhile in Haifa, dozens of Israelis gathered Tuesday to protest the attack on Lebanon. The protesters carried signs, shouted slogans, and said Israel was dangerously following the Bush administration’s policies.
Fox News is reporting the Bush administration has given Israel approval to continue the attack on Lebanon for at least another two weeks. A senior Israeli official said the US backs Israel’s aim to give Hezbollah “a strategic blow” before it halts the attacks.
Israel’s shelling of residential areas and Lebanese infrastructure has led to accusations it is carrying out collective punishment. In an interview with the Washington Post, retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft said the goal of Israel’s attack is to “create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters.” Col. Luft added: “If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip continues to claim the lives of more Palestinians. At least ten people were killed and thirty wounded in Israeli strikes earlier today. The dead included a three-year old girl in the northern Gaza town of Jabalya. On Tuesday, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland was in Gaza to tour Palestinian infrastructure damaged by Israeli attacks. He described Israel’s month-long campaign in Gaza as a “disproportionate use of force.” He emphasized Israel’s bombing of Gaza’s only power station.
In other news from Gaza, the Guardian of London is reporting Palestinian factions are coming close to an agreement to end rocket attacks on Israel and free the captured soldier Gilad Shalit. Several Palestinian factions, including members of Hamas, have reportedly agreed to a deal that would free Shalit and end rocket attacks in return for an end to Israel’s assault on Gaza and the future release of Palestinian prisoners. The deal would need approval from Hamas’ Syria-based leaders and from the Israeli government.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State of Condoleezza Rice wrapped up her visit to the Middle East with a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah Tuesday. Hundreds of people gathered outside Abbas’ compound to protest the US support for Israel’s ongoing attacks on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. In Gaza, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said the US government is backing aggression.
Secretary Rice said she has reached an agreement with Israel to allow humanitarian aid into Lebanon. But the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star is reporting Israeli warships forbade a French vessel loaded with humanitarian aid from reaching a port in Lebanon.
In Washington, President Bush addressed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the Middle East and continued to dismiss calls for a ceasefire.
The President spoke during an appearance with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Bush also confirmed plans to move more US troops into Baghdad.
The announcement has raised concerns the US presence could only increase the violence in the Iraqi capital. Bombings and killings have worsened since US and Iraqi troops launched a massive security crackdown six weeks ago. Baghdad’s central morgue says it’s received more than one thousand bodies already this month. According to the United Nations, more than one hundred Iraqis are being killed each day.
Meanwhile, a group of leading Senate Democrats is criticizing Prime Minister Al-Maliki over his recent condemnation of Israel’s attack on Lebanon. Maliki is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress later today. In a letter to Maliki, the Senators write “Your failure to condemn Hezbollah’s aggression and recognize Israel’s right to defend itself raises serious questions about whether Iraq under your leadership can play a constructive role in resolving the current crisis and bringing stability to the Middle East. ” The signatories include Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Senator Charles Schumer of New York. Al-Maliki has called for a ceasefire and condemned what he called Israel’s “operation of mass destruction and mass punishment.” Several Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Hillary Clinton and Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, have indicated they may boycott Maliki’s speech today unless he renounces his comments.
In other news, a federal judge in Illinois has dismissed a lawsuit over AT&T’s alleged involvement in the Bush administration’s domestic spying. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly said forcing AT&T to confirm or deny its collaboration with the National Security Agency could jeopardize national security. The suit is one of several cases brought against telecom companies and the US government over domestic spying. Just last week, a district judge in California ruled a similar lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation could proceed after rejecting the government’s argument the case would harm national security. Meanwhile in Missouri, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday to prevent two members of the Missouri Public Service Commission from looking into whether consumers’ telephone records were released to the National Security Agency.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate approved a bill Tuesday that it would make it illegal for anyone to accompany a young woman across state lines for an abortion without notifying her parents. The bill would leave a grandparent, clergy member or relative open to prosecution. Senate Republicans rejected a Democratic proposal that would have granted an exemption to confidants of abused young women.
In environmental news, a new report says global warming is endangering twelve of the most famous national parks in the United States. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council and Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, rising temperatures have led to the loss of wildlife and caused environmental damage. The groups say bear populations are declining and glaciers are melting at alarming rates.
And the American Civil Liberties Union has announced it will appeal the recent dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Khalid El-Masri against the US government. Masri is the German citizen who says he was kidnapped by the CIA and subjected to regular beatings and torture at a secret prison in Afghanistan. In May, a federal judge dismissed his case on the grounds it would jeopardize state secrets. ACLU attorney Ben Wizner said: “If this decision stands, the government will have a blank check to shield even its most shameful conduct from accountability,’’ he said.