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Wednesday, July 19, 2006 

Which part of "unconditional ceasefire" don't you understand, Mr Blair?

Lebanese woman reacts to a truck being bombed; injured Lebanese child; wounded Israeli soldier being taken into hospital.

Prime Minister's Questions is well known for being a complete farce. Blair does everything possible to avoid answering almost every question, and in the case of questions from the Tories and Lib Dems often goes on to denounce their various policies whether he's meant or allowed to or not. It certainly wasn't any different today.

Menzies Campbell: ...Did he (Blair) understand that it was America's policy to allow Israel a further period for military action, is that why the United Kingdom is not calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire?

Blair: I mean, if, if what the right honourable gentleman is seriously saying to me, is to call for an unconditional ceasefire by Israel now (barracking from MPs)... should call for both sides to do it, yes, well can I just point out to him that our influence with Hizbullah has been somewhat limited (laughter) it is not going to be possible, I mean, does he understand that they have fired somewhere in the region of 1,600 rockets into northern Israel, now I agree that what is happening in Lebanon is tragic and terrible ... it has to stop by undoing how it started and it started with the kidnap of Israeli soldiers and the bombardment of northern Israel and if we want it to stop, that has to stop.

Blair dodges Campbell's main question, which was that as reported in the Guardian the United States has given Israel another week to complete their bombing before they'll call for a ceasefire. He also gives a huge figure for the amount of rockets fired by Hizbullah, which seems far over what most news organisations have reported. He does at least admit that the situation in Lebanon is tragic and terrible, but as with the rest of the comments by British and American politicians he does nothing to condemn what anyone can see have been war crimes committed by both sides. While Hizbullah's rockets have targeted civilians, killed tens and injured hundreds, Israel has been reported by the Lebanese Daily Star as destroying privately owned factories: the largest dairy farm in the country, a paper mill, a packaging firm and a pharmaceutical plant have all been hit, as have power stations, the airport, bridges, roads, trucks carrying medical supplies, and even a church. If that is not an example of inflicting collective punishment, something which as BSSC notes, breaks Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, then clearly our ministers have been taken in by the rhetoric of the likes of the loathesome Hiliary Clinton:

"I want us here in New York to imagine, if extremist terrorists were launching rocket attacks across the Mexican or Canadian border, would we stand by or would we defend America against these attacks from extremists?”

“We will support [Israel’s] efforts to send a message to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians, to the Iranians, to all who seek death and domination instead of life and freedom.”

The relatives of the 280 Lebanese who have been killed in Israel's attacks will no doubt appreciate the fact that they were slaughtered so that a message could be sent.

We're meant to be a civilised, ethical country, but then again, Israel's army is meant to be the most moral in the world. One thing we could do is what Ming Campbell has been proposing: to call for an unconditional ceasefire so that the air can be cleared and a possible deal be worked out. Hizbullah, despite what Mr Blair says, has said that it will accept such a ceasefire. Only then can the captured soldiers be returned, in a likely swap of prisoners, a possible UN force sorted out, and then the enforcement of UN resolution 1559 could begin in earnest. Israel has only made the chance of that resolution being applied more unlikely; by attacking the same Lebanese army which it supposedly wants to control the UN blue line, it has already shown that this is not just a war purely against Hizbullah, if that hadn't already been established by the carnage which has been wreaked across Lebanon. Instead of calling for a ceasefire, which would be the very least we could do, our prime minister can only see one side of the issue; the American and Israeli side. In effect, our foreign policy is being decided not by the Foreign Office, but by Washington. It's also unclear whether the supposed week given by the Americans to Israel, with British backing, will be an actual week. It's unlikely that the Americans, spineless as they are at the best of times to the Israeli lobby, will demand an end until Israel thinks the "job" is done.

Not that anyone would notice that our foreign policy is being decided across the Atlantic anyway. The reporting of the crisis has been absolutely woeful. The tabloids, except for the Sun (which has made the situation out to be a "terrorist war on Israel) have done the best to completely ignore it, more concerned about the weather, and even then the small amount of coverage given has been inevitably about the evacuation of British citizens. Murdoch News, sorry Sky News, considers the deaths of two Israeli soldiers more important than the dozens of Lebanese citizens being killed each day, not to mention Israeli casualties:

Newsnight last night carried a report on Lebanese citizens who had fled, only to try as best they could to then get them to denounce Hizbullah, which only a couple did. Next up was an arslikhan interview with Shimon Peres, who wasn't challenged over anything he said. Finally there was the bat-shit insane Newt Gingrich, who was spouting his own creed about this being World War 3. BBC News have at least tried to give a semblance of balance, but even that has been marred by the usual reliance on Israeli spokesman and reports from where rockets have been landing, rather than reports from inside Lebanon itself.

As a European official who was talking to Simon Tisdall said, this is all very dangerous. The more humiliation that Israel heaps on Lebanon, a country governed by a prime minister and president that were supported only last year by the Americans after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the more likely that extremist forces will tighten their stranglehold on the region. The only moral thing we can do is to call for that unconditional ceasefire, and our government would rather spit in the eye of the deceased Robin Cook, architect of the long dead "ethical foreign policy" than do anything of the sort.

(PS: Here's a fuller background to the image of the Israelis writing messages on shells. Make sure to read the comments as well.)

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Lebanon Started it by kidnapping an Isreali soldier?
It started forty odd years ago when Palestine was wiped off the map.

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