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Ray
25 Feb 07,, 17:37
Suspicion of UN troops grows in south Lebanon

· International forces are favouring Israel, say locals· Fears of fresh conflict as Hizbullah's forces regroup

Clancy Chassay in Maroun al-Ras
Friday February 23, 2007
The Guardian

Six months after a UN-brokered ceasefire ended Israel's war with Hizbullah, scepticism about the role of 10,000 UN troops is growing in south Lebanon amid signs that the militant Shia group is retraining and re-equipping its forces.

The international force, deployed to keep the peace and support the expansion of the Lebanese army's authority over the previously Hizbullah-controlled south, is perceived by villagers to be favouring Israel. "They are not our guests any more," said Hajj Ali, a revered Hizbullah fighter from the large southern town of Bint Jbeil, who limps from an injury sustained during the summer war. "If they continue to help the Israelis we will have to take action against them."

Many in the south suspect Israel is trying to create a buffer zone along the border on Lebanese land allegedly captured during the war and that the UN is assisting it, furthering the popular perception that the UN forces, Unifil, are in south Lebanon to protect Israel from Hizbullah. Hizbullah, Lebanon's largest political party, is still part of the social fabric and continues military activities along the border.

Many in south Lebanon have struggled through the winter with intermittent electricity and running water, under threat from unexploded cluster munitions, which still litter large swaths of the countryside. More than 30 people have been killed and 180 wounded by bomblets since the war ended. Residents complain of Israeli overflights and incursions and this month a clash erupted when the Lebanese army opened fire on Israeli troops.

In the bomb-shattered village of Maroun al-Ras, overlooking the Lebanon Israeli border, 65-year-old farmer Mohammed Allawi was repairing damage to his house from Israeli shelling. He said many farmers were no longer able to tend their fields for fear of being shot by Israeli troops.

"Unifil has not lifted a hand against Israel but only intervenes to protect the Israelis, why are they on our land and why have they brought so many tanks?"

Hussein, a relative from Bint Jbeil, said the French were particularly unpopular. Hostility towards Lebanon's former colonial power can be found across the south. "Why are the French so aggressive?" asked Mr Allawi's wife, Fatmeh, "They come through the village at night in their big, noisy tanks, scaring the children. They never talk to us and we don't know what they are doing."

Nevertheless, Unifil provides jobs and social services and plays a vital role in disposing of unexploded munitions.

Hizbullah still dominates the south, its security men policing the Shia villages and its fighters patrolling the border, albeit with greater stealth than before. A senior Unifil official said operational bunkers had been found and that Hizbullah fighters had been seen on patrols.

As the UN destroys Hizbullah's military infrastructure, the threat of confrontation grows. The official, speaking off the record, said some areas controlled by the Lebanese army were off limits to the UN. Hajj Ali said they were Hizbullah military zones protected under a deal between Hizbullah and the Lebanese army.

The UN official also said there had been an increase in Hizbullah activity north of the Litani river, outside Unifil's jurisdiction. "There will be another war in the summer," Hajj Ali said. "It is the beginning of the end for Israel; we are preparing."

Suspicion of UN troops grows in south Lebanon | Syria and Lebanon | Guardian Unlimited (http://www.guardian.co.uk/syria/story/0,,2019497,00.html)

This is an example of how any international peace keeping force, be it UN or otherwise, is hamstrung from being effective, leading to misconceived criticism that the mission has failed and the UN is useless.

Let those who always criticise the UN, give us a plan as to what should be done, if they were in the place of the UNIFIL.

Ray
03 Mar 07,, 09:31
Hezbollah Rearms, Raising Risk of Reigniting War With Israel


By Janine Zacharia

March 2 (Bloomberg) -- Six months after a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia is rearming, raising the specter that even a small border skirmish might trigger another war.

While Hezbollah militiamen no longer operate at the border fence, the militant Islamic group has planted its yellow flags with green insignia along the border. Southern Lebanon, once Hezbollah's stronghold, is now patrolled by 20,000 United Nations peacekeepers and Lebanese troops under a cease-fire struck Aug. 14 after the 33-day war.

The UN troops don't patrol the border with Syria, through which Israeli officials say new arms and equipment -- including Katyusha rockets, Russian-made anti-tank missiles and night- vision goggles -- are flowing, adding to the arsenal of an estimated 8,000 rockets Hezbollah retained at the end of the conflict.

``The big problem today is that the smuggling of weapons between Syria and Lebanon didn't stop,'' Lieutenant Colonel Guy Hazut, of the Israeli army's 91st division, said in an interview along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Hassan Nasrallah, 46, Hezbollah's leader, said in a Feb. 3 interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper that his militia is receiving a fresh supply of money and weapons from Iran, the group's chief patron. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S.

`All Kinds and Quantities'

``We have weapons of all kinds and quantities,'' Nasrallah said in a speech Feb. 16, the Christian Science Monitor reported. ``We don't fight our enemy with swords made of wood.''

John Bolton, 58, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN who negotiated the resolution setting the terms of the cease-fire in August, said ``the hope'' that a new ``enhanced'' UN force in Lebanon would help prevent future flare-ups along the border ``has failed.'' Asked in an interview if another war is likely, Bolton said, ``I think it is.''

Hazut says Israel is, for now, relying on the UN to intervene, passing on to it information about smuggling attempts. ``But if this situation will not stop, our government will have to decide what to do,'' Hazut said.

During the war last July and August, 4,000 Katyusha rockets slammed into northern Israel, and Israeli bombs leveled Lebanese villages, killing hundreds and costing both nations' economies billions of dollars.

Proxy War

As tensions rise between the U.S. and Iran over the Iranian nuclear program, fears that a proxy war with Hezbollah might erupt again are becoming commonplace in Israel.

Senior Israeli military intelligence official Yossi Baidatz told a Knesset committee last month that Hezbollah was stronger now than before the war, a charge disputed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

``Hezbollah is weaker, much weaker than they were,'' Olmert, 61, told reporters in Jerusalem on Feb. 21. ``It is true they are trying to smuggle arms into Lebanon. It is true they are making efforts to rearm themselves to the level that they had before the war, but it is also true that the south of Lebanon now is filled'' with Lebanese and UN forces.

Driving amid the rolling hills and olive trees along the border, Lieutenant Colonel Hazut comes to the exact spot where the war began on July 12 when Hezbollah militants ambushed an Israeli convoy, killing three soldiers and kidnapping two. The two Israeli reservists, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, are still being held, a source of deep embarrassment for the Israeli government, which made their return one of the aims of the war.

Israel's Errors

A government-appointed investigative committee is scheduled to report on errors committed in the war's prosecution in the coming weeks. Israeli analysts say it will probably include criticism of Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, 54, who was only days on the job when the war erupted. Critics say they sent an insufficiently prepared force and failed to properly protect civilians.

Eyal Zisser, a Middle East expert at Tel Aviv University, said Olmert has no choice but to defend the war's achievements. ``His statement about Hezbollah had a clear political motivation to defend himself, to explain to everyone that what he did in the war was justified,'' Zisser said in an interview.

Hezbollah is bent on returning to where it was before the war, ``when they were prepared to launch missile attacks against Israel,'' Zisser said. Weapons from Iran are moving through Syria to Beirut and the Bekaa valley north of the zone patrolled by Lebanese and UN troops, he said.

An Unintentional War

``What I'm afraid of for the future'' is that war erupts unintentionally, Zisser said. ``A small incident along the border can lead us once again to a new round of violence.''

Such incidents are already more frequent. On Feb. 7, Lebanese troops fired at the Israeli army after they said a bulldozer crossed the border. Hazut says the bulldozer, which was clearing munitions, didn't cross the so-called Blue Line. Two Lebanese soldiers were wounded when Israel fired back.

Michael Williams, special adviser on the Middle East to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said during a Feb. 28 visit to Beirut that ``we cannot afford to see other incidents like that.'' Later last month, Lebanese forces aimed anti-aircraft fire at Israeli jets that circled over the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre.

Disarming Hezbollah

Mohammad Fneish, the Hezbollah minister of energy and water who resigned recently to protest Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government, defends Hezbollah's right to retain an independent arsenal. The UN cease-fire resolution last summer ``did not call for Hezbollah disarmament,'' he said after meeting Williams -- although a 2004 Security Council resolution did call for disarming all militias in Lebanon.

``The Israelis make statements every day and make threats, some even calling for the resumption of the aggression against Lebanon,'' Fneish said. ``We have to be ready to confront any aggression.''

Hezbollah, whose name means Party of God, has been linked to rocket attacks on Israel, bombings in Beirut in 1983 that killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French soldiers, and an attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people. Hezbollah denies involvement in the bombings.

Peering down from the hilltop Israeli collective farm of Misgav Am over the Lebanese village of Adessa, where bloody clashes took place during the war, Aryeh Ben-Yaakov said the fluttering Hezbollah flags don't bother him. The 66-year-old tour guide said he's just grateful that Hezbollah gunmen no longer perch on rooftops below, and for the twice-daily patrols by Norwegian peacekeepers.

``It's quiet, so that's a good thing,'' said Ben-Yaakov, who emigrated from Cleveland in 1961. ``Quiet is good for business.'' Even so, he added, ``In my opinion, war can break out any time Nasrallah wants it to.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Janine Zacharia in Biranit, Israel, at jzacharia@bloomberg.net
Last Updated: March 1, 2007 19:57 EST

It appears that Hezbollah, embolden by the last offensive against Israel is planning to strike. It works out well for Syria and Iran, since both are under pressure; Syria because of its involvement with the Harrari case and Iran with its nuclear ambitions. A war with Israel will test the Shia weapons and tactics as also keep the pressure on the US.

Israel, unfortunately, has lost much of its sheen as total routers of Arabs in the last conflict and that does not augers well for Middle East peace since it only has embolden the Islamic forces.

One wonders if Israel this time will be able to give a befitting reply and whether the US will be able to handle this situation, given all the problems it is besotted with at the moment.