The Israeli military suffered its worst day of fighting Wednesday as Hezbollah fighters killed at least eight Israeli troops and wounded 24 more. The soldiers died in fighting in the Lebanese town of Bint Jbail. Just hours earlier, Israel claimed it had taken control of the village. A ninth soldier was killed in another village Israel had claimed it controlled. Hezbollah also fired more than one hundred rockets into Israel, wounding ten people.
Israel continues to bombard Lebanon with a barrage of air strikes. Earlier today, Israeli warplanes pounded areas of south Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. At least five people were killed. A Lebanese official says Israel launched more than 400 missiles and bombs on the town of Khiam overnight. Israel has killed at least 420 Lebanese so far, mostly civilians.
Meanwhile, twenty-three Palestinians were killed Wednesday in Israeli strikes on Gaza. It was the highest single-day Palestinian death toll in two weeks. The dead included three children, a mother, and a disabled man. More than 140 Palestinians have died in the month-long Israeli assault. UN Emergency Coordinator Appeals for Ceasefire
Amid the ongoing violence in the Middle East, U.N. Emergency Relief Co-Ordinator Jan Egeland made an appeal on Wednesday for peace.
New details have emerged in the Israeli bombing that killed four UN observers in south Lebanon. UN officials say they made at least ten separate phone calls to the Israeli military begging them to stop the attack. Each time they were told the bombing would stop. In total, Israel launched more than twenty strikes, including four rounds that made direct hits. The bombing continued even as rescuers tried to save the victims. The dead observers were from Finland, Austria, Canada and a China. UN Secretary General Koffi Annan has not backed down from his charge the bombings were apparently deliberate. He spoke in Rome on Wednesday.
The killings of the four UN observers brought the UN death toll in the current crisis to six. A Nigerian couple with UNIFIL’s civilian staff were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit their home near Tyre. Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council failed to agree on a statement responding to the Israeli attack after the United States refused to accept language condemning: “any deliberate attack against U.N. personnel.”
Meanwhile Wednesday, the United States and Britain split with the United Nations and more than ten countries to block a move for an immediate ceasefire. According to the Guardian of London, the UN, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Jordan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Canada and Cyprus all backed a European and Arab proposal for Israel and Hezbollah to call a temporary truce. A senior US official dismissed the ceasefire calls as: “semantics.” The breakdown of talks is setting the stage for further violence. The international community is not expected discuss a ceasefire until at least next week. The US has backed Israel’s stance to continue the attacks until Hezbollah is removed from its border. A Hezbollah lawmaker told the Guardian the group would accept an immediate ceasefire without conditions.
In Rome, Lebanese Prime Minister Faoud Siniora addressed the failure to agree on a ceasefire.
The Lebanese Prime Minister went on to say: “The more we delay the ceasefire, the more we are going to witness more being killed, more destruction and more aggression against the civilians in Lebanon… We are being pounded every day. The country is being cut to pieces.”
While Britain sided with the US government in Rome, tensions are developing between the two governments. On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said she’s complained to the US over its use of a Scottish airport to transport bombs to Israel. According to the Daily Telegraph, two cargo planes filled with twenty-eight laser-guided bombs landed in Scotland en-route to Israel from the US. The Bush administration has reportedly asked for permission to land two more planes carrying bombs and missiles for Israel. Earlier this week, the Bush administration reacted angrily after British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells criticized Israel’s bombing of civilians in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the family of one of the two captured Israeli soldiers in Lebanon has come out against the war. At a press conference in Paris, Malka Goldwasser, the mother of captured soldier Ehud Goldwasser, appealed for peace.
The scale of the destruction to Lebanon’s infrastructure and resources is widening. Environmentalists and the Lebanese government are now warning the bombing is causing an environmental catastrophe. Officials say at least 10,000 tons of heavy fuel oil have been spilled into the Lebanese sea following Israel’s bombing of a power station earlier this month. Oil fires have swelled while large deposits are leaking into the Mediterranean. Lebanon’s Environmental Minister said the pollution affects up to 50 miles of coastal beaches in Southern and Northern Lebanon. Another 15,000 tons of oil are expected to leak into the sea. The government has begun operations to cleanup the spill but says a full effort is too dangerous because of Israel’s ongoing attacks. In addition to the environmental damage, the spill threatens to bring adverse health effects on local residents and add a further blow to Lebanon’s tourism sector.
Meanwhile, Israel has detained an Ohio college professor on suspicion of spying for Hezbollah and Iran. Ghazi Falah, a geography professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, was apprehended earlier this month in northern Israel. He has not been charged with any crime but remains in prison. An Israeli official said Falah was arrested for taking pictures along the northern border. Falah’s lawyer says he was conducting research for his writings on the borders of Israel and a future Palestinian state. He says Falah made a similar trip to Lebanon where he took pictures last June.
In other news, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continued his visit to the US Wednesday with an address to a joint session of Congress. Al-Maliki said his country’s future depends on continued US commitment and that Iraq is a front line in the war on terrorism. His speech received an unexpected interruption from Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group CodePink. She yelled: “Iraqis want the troops to leave, bring them home now!” Medea Benjamin was then arrested and charged with disrupting Congress.
Meanwhile, leading Democrats continue to denounce the Iraqi Prime Minister over his recent criticism of Israel’s attack on Lebanon. Several Democratic lawmakers boycotted Maliki’s speech. The boycott came after Senate Democrats wrote Maliki Tuesday they questioned his leadership because of his stance on the Israeli attack. But the harshest criticism of Maliki came from Democratic Party chair Howard Dean. Speaking at a gathering of business leaders in Florida on Wednesday, Dean called Maliki “an anti-Semite.” Dean added: “We don’t need to spend $200 and $300 and $500 billion bringing democracy to Iraq to turn it over to people who believe that Israel doesn’t have a right to defend itself and who refuse to condemn Hezbollah.”
Dean’s comments are coming under criticism. In a statement released to Democracy Now, Mitchell Plitnick of the San Francisco-based Jewish Voice for Peace said: “Israel opens itself up to legitimate criticism with its killing of so many civilians on top of 39 years of occupation of Palestinian lands. It is shameful to hide these misdeeds behind specious accusations of anti-Semitism. Mr. Dean and others like him belittle centuries of Jewish suffering by using accusations of anti-Semitism to shield Israel from legitimate criticism.”
In Iraq, US military officials say they’re considering delaying the scheduled return of thousands of troops back to the United States. Keeping the troops would mean increasing the total number currently in Iraq, as new troops would continue to come in. President Bush announced Tuesday the US will be sending around 4,000 troops to Baghdad amid unrelenting violence.
In other news, the House voted Wednesday to approve a nuclear cooperation deal with India. The measure passed by a vote of 359 to 68. Lawmakers rejected amendments that would have put limits on India’s nuclear weapons program. Democratic Congressmember Edward Markey of Massachusetts said the US is encouraging nuclear proliferation.
And in Chicago, the City Council has approved a measure requiring large retailers to pay employees a living wage. The vote makes Chicago the largest city with such a rule. Retailers with over $1 billion dollars in sales will be required to pay workers at least ten dollars an hour plus three dollars in benefits by the year 2010. The measure passed despite the warnings from figures including Mayor Richard Daley and officials from the retail giant Wal Mart. Wal Mart warned it would focus its attention on its suburban locations if the measure was approved.