Mid East Crisis: The View on Day 13

Monday, July 24, 2006

Monday marks the 13th day of violence between the Israeli forces and the militant group Hezbollah based in Lebanon. As it stands the death toll for both sides stands is close to 400; over 360 of those are Lebanese casualties and most of them are civilians. Thousands more have suffered injuries from the unrelenting violence and many people who’ve been lucky enough to not be physically harmed have found themselves homeless as Lebanese refugees head to neighbouring Syria to get out of the line of fire.

Today, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in the region with a “surprise” stop in Beirut to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora before continuing on to meet with Israeli leaders later today. Rice stated on Friday that she, and presumably the Bush administration, rejected the idea of an all out ceasefire; and it was a sentiment she reiterated today as she arrived in the Middle East to, in her words, assess the humanitarian situation.

Rice has been criticized for her nearly two-week wait before getting involved in the current crisis. The United States itself has been criticized by many of its European allies and other foreign governments for allowing the fighting to continue while condoning Israel’s actions and allowing the killing of Lebanese civilians to continue unabated.

Standing by his man, Prime Minister Stephen Harper have followed Bush’s example by supporting Israel. On July 13th, Harper called the Israeli response “measured”. It’s a position that has put Harper’s policy on the hot seat amongst many Canadians who are not fond of this shift to the right in Canada’s foreign policy.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter McKay tried to sooth those fears on the CTV political discussion show Question Period Sunday by saying, “We've changed nothing in the way Canada approaches these circumstances on a responsive basis. The current crisis calls for a response that is rational, that is based on information that is available that may not have been available before.”

But then McKay also said, “A ceasefire and a return to the status quo is a victory for Hezbollah," and "Let's not forget that this was an unprovoked attack by a terrorist organization. Missiles were being fired into Israel. This is an attempt to defend a sovereign nation...This wasn't an impulsive move by Israel."

On Saturday, 2000 people in Toronto and Montreal gathered to protest the ongoing violence in the Middle East, some held up banners with the words “War Monger” over the PM’s picture. In town last week, a group of concerned citizens, including U of G students, collected signatures on a petition for Guelph MP Brenda Chamberlain stating their desire for the Canadian government to condemn Israel’s actions in the conflict.

The current crisis began on July 12th, when Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross border attack. Israel responded by firing rockets into southern Lebanon to take out roads and bridges to prevent the militants’ escape. The following day Israel began the first wave of its air campaign taking out the infrastructure of Lebanon including the runways and fuel supply tanks at the Beirut international airport; thus preventing foreign nationals from easily escaping the war zone.

Hezbollah responded with rocket attacks of its own, but the damaged cause to Israeli targets is incompatible to the damage reaped by Israel’s missile attacks on the Lebanese. To make matters worse, today, Israel began sending ground forces into Lebanon resulting in some fierce fighting in the city of Bint Jbeil, which the Israeli military has dubbed Hezbollah’s “terror capital”.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation continues to get worse as relief agencies are predicting that as many as 500,000 people will soon be in dire need of food, water and shelter. There is some help on the way as the UN recently pledged millions in humanitarian aid and even President Bush has promised ships and helicopters be sent to Lebanon with relief supplies, according to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

As the fighting rages on with no end in sight, it’s worth noting that the two kidnapped soldiers, in who’s name this conflict was started, have not, as of yet, been found.

With Sources from The Toronto Star, Reuters and CNN.com

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