Headlines, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: Arab League Also Steps In

Roxana Saberi

BEIRUT, Aug 7 2006 (IPS) - Many Lebanese are welcoming a show of unity by Arab ministers who decided in Beirut Monday to send a delegation to the United Nations to represent Lebanon’s interests in ending the current conflict.

But they also say the move is long overdue and may be more symbolic than effective.

“I think (the Arab nations’ decision) comes now because the war has taken much longer than was expected,” Prof. Talal Atrissi from the Lebanese University in Beirut told IPS. “They realise almost a month has passed, the conflict is continuing and Hezbollah’s resistance still exists.”

“Also the Arab governments are seeing the growing popularity of Hezbollah and (Hezbollah leader Seyyed Hassan) Nasrallah at home, so they feel obligated to meet and say they are ready to find a solution to stop the war,” he added.

The Arab delegation will include the foreign ministers of Qatar, the only Arab member on the UN Security Council, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa.

The ministers are expected to press for changes in a U.S.-French draft UN Resolution in line with demands by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who sees the draft as heavily tilted toward Israel.

The resolution calls for Hezbollah to stop all military operations and for Israel to stop its military push into Lebanon, but it makes no mention of a withdrawal of Israeli troops – one of the main demands of the Lebanese government.

Lebanon’s government said Monday evening that it would send 15,000 troops to the south to encourage Israeli soldiers to withdraw. Israel has asked for deployment of the Lebanese army as one way to control Hezbollah.

The Lebanese government has, however, refrained from openly calling for disarming of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon. The draft resolution calls for “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon.”

“It’s very tricky,” said Elie Fawaz, a political analyst in Beirut. “(The Lebanese government) can’t address it because they don’t want to quarrel with the Hezbollah or the Shia community now, but it’s something that needs to be done.”

Michael Young, opinion page editor at the Lebanon Daily Star, agreed that tackling the status of Hezbollah will be extremely difficult.

“There’s a consensus that many people won’t express in the international community that if the conflict ends today and Hezbollah emerges too strong, it will destabilise the country,” he said. “But if Hezbollah emerges too weak…it will also destabilise the system.”

In the meantime, Hezbollah continues to launch rockets into northern Israel, and on Monday Israeli attacks killed at least 45 people in Lebanon. Five of those casualties were in a crowded Shia-dominated neighbourhood in south Beirut, where local residents used their hands to dig survivors and bodies out of the rubble.

Two apartment buildings were hit by what witnesses described as Israeli missiles. Many people were living in the area because it had not been targeted yet by Israel. In contrast, other Shia neighbourhoods in southern Beirut known as Hezbollah strongholds were largely evacuated by local residents in recent weeks.

People in the Shia neighbourhood hit Monday are said to be closer to Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Beri and the Shia Amal Movement than to Nasrallah, although in some of the apartments damaged by the blasts, posters of Beri were hanging beside those of Nasrallah.

Beri had said Sunday that he opposes the UN draft resolution because it would allow the Israel Defence Forces to remain on Lebanese soil.

“We can conclude that the Israeli attack is a message to Mr. Beri because he refused the resolution,” Atrissi said. “The Israelis also want to say for example that if you turn down the resolution, you could face more destruction and death.”

Ali, a member of Hezbollah who did not want to give his last name, was confident that Hezbollah would not be defeated.

“Neither the leaders of Saudi Arabia nor Jordan, nor any of the others can determine the future,” said Ali, patrolling a deserted neighbourhood in southern Beirut. “All the important decisions are made by Nasrallah.”

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