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Can conflict be contained or will it spread throughout region?
by UK Guardian (reposted)
Thursday Jul 13th, 2006 7:26 PM
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem
Friday July 14, 2006
The Guardian
Why did Hizbullah spark this latest conflict?

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrullah has said his intent in capturing two Israeli soldiers was to bargain for the release of Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails. He has promised to attempt such a release for years. Still, many analysts in Lebanon were stunned by the scale of the attack, by far the most serious operation that the fundamentalist militia has launched in years. It seems timed to coincide with Hamas operations in Gaza, where a third Israeli soldier is being held. There is an internal Lebanese dynamic at play here as well and Hizbullah may be trying a high-risk strategy of reasserting its position within Lebanon.

Would Tehran or Damascus have had a hand in the decision?

Hizbullah is based in Lebanon but has always been closely linked to Syria and especially Iran, which was instrumental in the founding of the militia in the early 1980s. Syria has said it did not order the mission. "The resistance in south Lebanon and among the Palestinian people decides solely what to do and why," the Syrian vice president, Farouq al-Shara, told reporters. But it is still unlikely such a major operation could have gone ahead without at least the knowledge of Hizbullah's key allies in Tehran.

What can the Lebanese government do?

It is in an extremely difficult position. On the one hand Hizbullah has two ministers in the coalition cabinet and the government has spoken publicly of its support for the group which it describes as a legitimate resistance force. On the other hand, the wide respect that Hizbullah enjoyed across Lebanese society at the end of the 18-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000 is beginning to fade.

by UK Guardian (reposted)
Thursday Jul 13th, 2006 7:27 PM
Hamas and Hizbullah are doing the bidding of their backers in Damascus and Tehran

Jonathan Spyer
Friday July 14, 2006
The Guardian

The kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah on the Israel-Lebanon border and the killing of eight others was an unprovoked act of war. Israel is now involved in a two-front confrontation with well-armed Islamist organisations that have powerful state backers.

The disengagement from Gaza last September was undertaken by Israel because of its conviction that no credible partner for negotiation existed on the Palestinian side. Nevertheless, embedded in Israel's strategy of unilateralism was an assumption of a sort of baseline rationality among the Palestinian leadership. It was assumed that the absence of Israeli soldiers and civilians from Gaza would enable the construction of a normal life for its residents. This, it was hoped, would create a pragmatic interest in maintaining quiet. This assumption was flawed.

A massive increase in Palestinian paramilitary activity took place after the disengagement. In the first three months of this year 500 Qassam rockets were fired from Gaza on to the towns of the western Negev. About 280 attempted attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip were recorded in December 2005, compared with 48 in October that year. The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority defended the April 17 terror attack in Tel Aviv, calling it a "natural result of the continued Israeli crimes".

by UK Guardian (reposted)
Thursday Jul 13th, 2006 7:27 PM
Simon Tisdall
Friday July 14, 2006
The Guardian

Israel's assault on Lebanon, following Hizbullah's cross-border raid on Wednesday and weeks of unremitting bloodshed in Gaza, brought demands yesterday for international action to contain the crisis and mediate an end to the fighting. But the US, with its unmatched influence over Israel and as self-appointed guardian of the Middle East peace process, appeared reluctant to intervene.

Lebanon's appeal for the UN security council to step in is supported by most Arab governments and by France, Lebanon's former colonial master and the current security council president.

But the council has been vainly trying for a fortnight to agree a resolution on Gaza, with the US threatening to use its veto in defence of Israel. A consensus on the more complicated, fast-moving crisis now engulfing Lebanon is thus unlikely.

Other international bodies with pretensions to global peacemaking, such as Nato and the EU - part of the Middle East "quartet" - are currently reduced to the role of concerned bystanders. Russia says it will table the issue at this weekend's St Petersburg G8 summit. But that may only serve to underscore international divisions.

George Bush's administration warned yesterday of the dangers of destabilising Lebanon. But it otherwise made no serious attempt to curb Israel's offensive. Its spokesmen stuck instead to their favoured hands-off formula: "We are urging restraint on both sides [while] recognising Israel's right to defend itself," said a senior US official accompanying the president in Germany.