A United Nations brokered ceasefire has gone into effect in Lebanon and Israel, ending — at least temporarily — 33 days of fighting. Thousands of Lebanese refugees are now attempting to return home. The U.N. Security Council agreed on Friday to dispatch 15,000 soldiers to Southern Lebanon. The resolution mandates that Hezbollah stop all attacks and that Israel withdraw and stop what is described as “offensive operations.”
After Friday’s vote, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan criticized the international community for taking so long to secure a ceasefire.
Meanwhile Lebanon’s Acting Foreign Minister Tareq Mitri accused Israel of ravaging Lebanon.
Despite Friday’s ceasefire vote, fierce fighting continued over the weekend. On Friday Israel used up to 50 helicopters to land hundreds of troops deep inside southern Lebanon. It was described as the largest operation of its kind since the Yom Kippur war in 1973. A total of 30,000 Israeli troops are now in Lebanon. Israel also continued to bomb Lebanon up until the final moments before the ceasefire began. On Sunday, an Israeli missile strike killed 15 in the southern Lebanese village of Rachaf. In southern Beirut, Israeli warplanes destroyed 11 residential buildings. At least three people were killed.
Israeli drones also fired missiles at a convoy of hundreds of cars fleeing Southern Lebanon. At least seven people were killed, including a Lebanese Red Cross worker. 36 others were wounded. The head of the Lebanese Red Cross accused Israel of breaking the Geneva Conventions by attacking civilians and Red Cross vehicles. The United Nations said Israel bombed the convoy even though it had granted it permission to leave southern Lebanon. Another Red Cross ambulance was bombed earlier in the day near Tyre.
On Saturday, Israeli air raids in Baalbek killed a 10-year-old child and caused damage to the ancient Roman Temple of Bacchus. Several stones fell inside the temple complex, which is a UNESCO-protected world heritage site.
Meanwhile on Sunday Hizbollah fired more than 250 rockets into Northern Israel killing a 70-year-old man and wounding at least 18 others. Israel said Hezbollah also tried to send two unmanned drones into Israel.
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah will observe the truce but will continue to resist the presence of Israeli troops in southern Lebanon.
Since the fighting began, nearly 1,100 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Lebanon. Israel has lost about 100 soldiers and 40 civilians. On Saturday, 24 Israeli soldiers died in fierce fighting with Hezbollah guerillas who managed to shoot down an Israeli helicopter. The Washington Post reports that the fighting has proved Hezbollah is the best guerilla force in the world.
Among the Israeli soldiers killed on Saturday was Uri Grossman, the son of one of Israel’s most prominent anti-war activists, the writer David Grossman. Uri Grossman was killed when an anti-tank missile hit his tank in southern Lebanon. He was just two weeks shy of his 21st birthday. Two days before Uri was killed, his father David Grossman held a press conference, along with fellow novelists Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, to denounce the expansion of the operation in Lebanon. David Grossman said “Out of concern for the future of Israel and our place here, the fighting should be stopped now, to give a chance to negotiations.”
Meanwhile, polls in Israel show support for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s handling of the war is plummeting. 40 percent of Israelis now disapprove of the war and less than half support Olmert’s handling of the war.
On Sunday the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom took out an ad in the pages of Haaretz. It read: “A mountain of suffering has turned into an anthill of achievements. Nothing has been gained in this foolish war. Every drop of blood that is being shed now is being shed in vain.”
At the United Nations, Israel’s ambassador Dan Gillerman defended Israel’s actions over the past month.
On Friday the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Israel for violating human rights and international humanitarian law in its military operations in Lebanon. The council voted to send a high-level commission to the area to investigate the “systematic targeting and killing” of Lebanese civilians by Israel. This is UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour Louise Arbour: “The deaths of hundreds of civilians in documented and corroborated incidents, involving either random or targeted attacks on civilian vehicles or buildings, strongly suggest the indiscriminate use of force.” Amnesty International and other groups criticized the UN Human Rights Council for not also condemning Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli civilians.
If the ceasefire holds, Lebanon faces a daunting task of rebuilding the country. Over the past month, Israel has destroyed much of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, including roads, bridges and power plants. On Sunday, Israeli warplanes bombed power plants in Sidon and Tyre. Lebanon’s Finance Minister Jihad Azour: “We hope that the international community will come with aid and mainly donations for Lebanon as you know some countries started (helping) like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. We expect the others to contribute. This war on Lebanon and the reconstruction have to be the responsibility of the international community as stipulated in the Security Council resolution 1701.”
Here in the United States, tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated on Saturday against Israel’s attack on Lebanon. Protests were held in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angles, Seattle and Orlando. Among the protesters in Washington was Miriam Yasmin, a Lebanese-American from New Jersey.
In Britain, a group of prominent British Muslims — including members of Parliament — have sent an open letter to Tony Blair criticizing his policies in the Middle East. The letter read, “The debacle of Iraq and the failure to do more to secure an immediate end to the attacks on civilians in the Middle East not only increases the risk to ordinary people in that region, it is also ammunition to extremists who threaten us all.” The letter was sent two days after the British government announced that it had foiled an alleged plot by a group of British-born Muslims to down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.
Meanwhile NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects of the alleged plot. A senior British official said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The British official suggested the attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. Some did not even have passports.
In Iraq, a well-coordinated attack on a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad has left at least 63 people dead and another 140 people wounded. The attack began when two car bombs exploded. Then guerilla fighters fired nine rockets into the neighborhood. Three buildings were hit including a multi-story apartment building which collapsed.
Meanwhile Baghdad is suffering its worst fuel crisis since the war began. Some analysts say the crisis is so severe that it could bring down Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government.
This news from Cuba — the first photographs of Fidel Castro taken after his stomach surgery have appeared in the Cuban press. The photographs were published on Sunday, Castro’s 80th birthday. They showed him wearing a sweatshirt talking on the phone and reading the newspaper. The photographs mark the first hard evidence that Castro survived his recent surgery. In a statement that appeared in the Cuban press, Castro said “I ask you all to be optimistic, and at the same time to be ready to face any adverse news.” Meanwhile Castro’s brother, Raul, has made his first public appearance since he became the acting head of state. On Sunday, he met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Havana.
In Mexico, opposition leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is saying that a partial recount of votes from the presidential election has shown so many errors that the top electoral court should declare him president-elect. He vowed that mass protests would continue until a ballot-by-ballot recount is conducted. On Saturday supporters of Lopez Obrador took over several major highways and stopped the government from collecting toll fees.
The New York Times is reporting an influential federal panel of medical advisers has recommended that the government allow pharmaceutical companies to begin conducting tests on prison inmates. The practice was all but stopped three decades ago after revelations of abuse. Until the early 1970’s, about 90 percent of all pharmaceutical products were tested on prison inmates. But such research diminished sharply in 1974 after revelations of abuse. At the Holmesburg prison in Philadelphia, inmates were paid hundreds of dollars a month to test items as varied as dandruff treatments and dioxins. They were exposed to radioactive, hallucinogenic and carcinogenic chemicals.
In political news, a former Interior Department official has pled guilty to accepting gifts from Republican lobbyist, Jack Abramoff and then lying about them to avoid scrutiny. The official, Roger Stillwell, worked in the Interior Department’s insular affairs office, which handles issues with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The island government had hired Abramoff as a lobbyist.
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