Israeli warplanes pounded targets across Lebanon Friday, hitting a farm produce warehouse near the Syrian border, several bridges north of Beirut and houses in southern Lebanon in airstrikes that left dozens of people dead or buried under rubble.
The Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah, meanwhile, fired nearly 200 rockets into northern Israel, killing three Israeli civilians and injuring eight others, police said. The Israeli military reported three Israeli soldiers killed and two wounded in ground fighting with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon Friday.
Israeli forces are not only intensifying the scale of the attacks, but expanding the extent as well:
Israel unleashed airstrikes across Lebanon Friday, severing the last major road link to the outside world and killing more than 30 people.
The bombs destroyed four bridges along the main north-south highway in what had been the largely untouched Christian heartland north of Beirut and far from Hezbollah territory. With the road from Beirut to Damascus already cut at several points, this was the only practical way to bring in relief and other supplies from Syria, tightening the sense of siege here.
Israeli forces also appear poised to extend the security zone in southern Lebanon, beyond what they occupied after the 1982 invasion (via Kevin Drum):
Such an operation would extend Israel's control past the security zone it held until the withdrawal of its troops in May 2000. For now, the cabinet has approved the creation of a buffer zone some eight kilometers inside Lebanon which Olmert wants the military to control until an international peacekeeping force can be deployed in the area.
This will not prevent Hezbollah from launching rockets into Israel, but Israel hopes that it will weaken Hezbollah's base of operations and asserts that they are creating a buffer zone in which any international peace-keeping force can operate.
World opinion continues to support calls for an immediate cease-fire while Arab opinion around the Middle East and in Iraq turns harshly against Israel and us:
Throngs of Shiite men, most clad in white burial shrouds that symbolized their willingness to die, gathered in the northeast Baghdad slum known as Sadr City and marched toward the center of the capital, chanting "Death to Israel" and "Death to America." Marchers waved the yellow flag of Hezbollah and the red-and-green flag of Lebanon, while occasionally pausing to desecrate the Israeli flag.
Finally, via praktike at American Footprints, Zbigniew Brzynzski, in a briefing on July 26th, gives us some perspective (pdf) on the civilian casualties in Lebanon:
By way of reference, let me simply remind you of the fact that NATO waged a 78-day-long aerial campaign against Serbia, the purpose of which was to force Serbia out of Kosovo by imposing serious costs on Serbia focusing of course on infrastructure, but in the process also producing what is sometimes euphemistically called collateral damage.
NATO admitted up to 30 incidents involving civilian casualties that were unintended. Human Rights Watch conducted a very extensive investigation after the end of the hostilities and discovered that this was an underestimate, that in fact a number of civilian incidents were larger. Human Rights Watch visited 91 sites, cities, towns, and villages that were exposed to NATO bombing, and located at least 42 sites in which there were civilian casualties.
And after 78 days of bombing, approximately 500 casualties were identified. That is roughly five-times higher than the rate of civilian casualties inflicted so far in Lebanon and in Gaza by the ongoing campaign, for the hostilities in Lebanon and Gazahave now lasted two weeks roughly. The Serbian hostilities lasted 11 weeks. This suggests that perhaps some of the casualties were the result of excessive use of force or not closely supervised use of force, and that has political costs.
And Daniel at Crooked Timber has an excellent discussion regarding the recent report by Human Rights Watch (pdf) and whether some of the airstrikes carried about by Israeli forces could be characterized as war crimes:
My summary of the report’s conclusions would be that the proposition that the IDF “takes the utmost care to minimise civilian casualties” has been falsified to a high degree of certainty, and even the weaker claim that the IDF does not intentionally target civilians looks a lot less certain than one would previously have believed. The attacks on infrastructure such as the LibanLait dairy look not at all like legitimate attempts to shut down Hezbollah and very much like attempts to intimidate the Lebanese population; unless we are prepared to postulate a truly colossal series of blunders, it looks very bad indeed.The report by HRW says as much:
This is what Israeli commanders and leaders have said themselves, indicating that they have been somewhat less than precise in distinguishing between civilians and combatants.
Statements from Israeli government officials and military leaders suggest that, at the very least, the IDF has blurred the distinction between civilian and combatant, and is willing to strike at targets it considers even vaguely related to the latter. At worst, it considers all people in the area of hostilities open to attack.
On July 17th, for example, after IDF strikes on Beirut, the commander of the Israeli Air Force, Eliezer Shkedi, said, "in the center of Beirut there is an area which only terrorists enter into." The next day, the IDF deputy chief of staff, Moshe Kaplinski, when talking about the IDF's destruction of Beirut's Dahia neighborhood, said, "the hits were devastating, and this area, which was a Hezbollah symbol, became deserted rubble."
On July 27th, Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said that the Israeli air force should flatten villages before ground troops move in to prevent casualties among Israeli soldiers fighting Hezbollah. Israel had given civilians ample time to leave southern Lebanon, he claimed, and therefore anyone remaining should be considered a supporter of Hezbollah. "All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are in some way related to Hezbollah," he said.
Again and again, those who support the bombing campaign in its present ferocity trot out the line that Hezbollah fighters hide themselves and their supplies among civilians, thus inviting attacks on those civilians. This is true (and this is also a war crime, as Daniel points out in this post at Crooked Timber), and it has resulted in the deaths of many civilians as the Israelis have bombed buildings they believed Hezbollah fighters to operating in or around. Nonetheless, Israel has also shown a reckless disregard for civilian casualties in other circumstances, such as the bombings of convoys of civilians fleeing north, the bombing of buildings in which there is little to no evidence of Hezbollah activities, and the bombing of the U.N. post after repeated warnings from U.N. personnel. These attacks have taken place despite Israeli claims that they seek to avoid civilian casualties. In the former, one is left to question what criteria the IDF uses to determine if a moving vehicle or a building contains Hezbollah personnel (clearly it did not include seeing such personnel get into the vehicle or building) and in the latter, one is left to question to what degree the IDF is willing to moderate their fire in circumstances where they know for a fact that innocent lives are at risk and it is unlikely that Hezbollah fighters are in the vicinity.
I'll state again: it is impossible to argue that Israel has conducted a campaign that has been anything less than reckless towards Lebanese civilians. The images, stories, and now the numbers, are undeniable.