Sunday, June 03, 2007

Lebanon at war

The two reports (of many more) from Al-Jazeera and the BBC World Service show clearly that it is not easy to know exactly what is going on in Lebanon. (I would recommend the Al-Jazeera one as being more complete and objective.)

So far as one can make out, the Lebanese army is moving in for the final push in Nahr al-Bared with Fatah Al-Islam acknowledging that one of their leaders, Abu Riyadh, has been killed by an army sniper. The army has reported that at least three other "militants" have been killed in the last day's fighting.

Most of the camp's population has managed to get out but those who are too old or too infirm to go, are still there, with the terrorists (what the heck, call them by their right name) probably intending to use them as shields. Or so the Lebanese government and army believe.
As the siege continued, Abu Salim Taha, a spokesman for Fatah al-Islam, claimed that troops from Unifil, a multi-national peacekeeping force whose remit is largely concerned with monitoring southern Lebanon, had taken part in the shelling of Nahr al-Bared camp.

A deputy spokesperson for Unifil denied the allegations.

Yapmina Bouzaine said: "These claims are utterly unfounded. Unifil's maritime task force have no part whatsoever in the developments in and around Nahr al-Bared camp."

She said the maritime task force was acting within its original mandate, assisting the Lebanese authorities in preventing the illegal flow of arms via the sea.
I do not suppose Unifil is involved in the fighting but it is hard to imagine it doing anything useful in a situation that is rapidly escalating.

Another militant group, Jund Al-Sham, has fired at an army checkpoint (calm down Beeboids, it was not an Israeli checkpoint but a Lebanese one) at the Ain al-Hilweh camp in south Lebanon. The army returned the fire and brought in reinforcements, deploying armoured vehicles mounted with heavy machine guns.

Though the situation remains chaotic, one or two points need to be made.

The first obvious one that if Israel had gone after "militants" in refugee camps, there would, by now be angry demonstrations (though not very large ones) and emergency meetings in the UN Security Council. It is a point that has been made repeatedly and needs to be made over and over again.

However, the really interesting aspect is that the Lebanese government and military seem to be determined to rid the country of various, multimonikered militant groups, and if that means waging war in Palestinian refugee camps, so be it. They will do it, hoping, presumably, that the Palestinians will be too scared to harbour any more terrorists. I doubt if that hope will be justified.

One wonders rather whether Israel's war against Hezbollah last summer may not have left the Lebanese government more determined to reclaim the country for the Lebanese people. How that will play out with all those Palestinian camps remains to be seen.

And while we are on the subject, where is Hezbollah. Apart from a few statements by Nasrallah, they have been very quiet. Indeed, they have retreated in the last few months very quickly after making various threats, as soon as there was a strong response from the government and the people.

Could it be that Hezbollah has, as some of us suspected, suffered a far greater defeat last summer than it was acknowledged by the so-called independent observers? Might there be some difficulty in recruiting replacement fighters and getting more arms from Iran, Syria or, even, some units of the Lebanese army?

Just a few questions to which one would like to know the answers.


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