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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 1995, pg. 16

Special Report

Absence of Syrian-Israeli Peace Agreement Dangerous for Lebanese

By Stephen J. Sosebee

The July 12 killing of three Lebanese children by the Israeli army demonstrates that despite Mideast peacemaking efforts, a brutal war still is being waged in south Lebanon. The Israeli weapon used to kill siblings Zacharia, Jihan and Silvana Bader, and to injure three other children, was a tank-fired antipersonnel "dart bomb" that sprays 1.5-inch nails. This weapon is illegal under the 1949 Geneva Convention and is designed to inflict horrible injuries on anyone within a wide radius of its impact.

Though the United Nations Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) protested the use of these shells by Israel, little attention was paid by the Arab governments seemingly bent on making peace with Israel at any cost. "What cannot be excused or accepted is the Arab silence when it comes to attacks on Lebanon, especially as Lebanon is part of a mutual defense pact," fumed Lebanese Defense Minister Mohsen Dalloul.

In recent months, the 1,000 Israeli soldiers and nearly 3,000 South Lebanon Army (SLA) troops who occupy Israel's nine-mile-wide "security zone" carved out of Lebanese territory have increased their military operations against Lebanese and Palestinian targets in south Lebanon.

SLA troops, who are paid by the Israeli government, have been employed by the Israelis in Lebanon before and ever since 1982 to assist in the occupation of the south. SLA members also participated in the massacre of Palestinian men, women and children after the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps were surrounded by Israeli troops when they occupied West Beirut in the summer of 1982.

The current increased Israeli military activity may be designed to pressure Syria, with 35,000 troops in Lebanon, to come to the negotiating table. The upsurge in fighting comes two years after a large-scale invasion of south Lebanon by the Israeli army.

In July 1993, after several successful ambushes by Lebanese Hezbollah militiamen against Israeli occupation forces in the south, the Israel Defense Forces broke out of their so-called "security zone" and drove over a half million Arab refugees north to Beirut. More than 300 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were killed in what Israel called "Operation Accountability." The invasion ended only after the United States and the Arab League brokered the unofficial "Damascus Agreement" in which Hezbollah, the main Lebanese resistance force in the south, and Israel agreed to refrain from attacking civilian areas on either side of the 15-kilometer security zone.

Despite diplomatic efforts to confine the fighting to the security zone, the war in south Lebanon has taken a huge human toll on a small population. In 1993, 512 Arab civilians were killed in the fighting in the south, while 25 Israeli soldiers and 31 SLA personnel were killed. In 1994, 354 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians were killed, despite the Damascus Agreement, while 21 Israeli soldiers and 39 SLA troops were killed.

The war in south Lebanon has taken a huge human toll.

Increased military success by Hezbollah and the prospects of an eventual peace between Israel and Syria have resulted in a severe morale problem within the SLA. In February, 13 of 17 Israeli cabinet ministers made an unprecedented visit to the town of Marjaiyun where the SLA is headquartered.

"It is the belief among many that when Israel and Syria finally make peace, it will be at the expense of Israel's proxy militia in the south," explained Mahmoud Mohammed, a former professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. "They fear severe retribution from Hezbollah for collaborating with the Israeli occupiers."

Alleging "harassment" of SLA personnel by the Hezbollah militia, Israel began a sea blockade of the southern Lebanese ports of Sidon and Tyre in February. Despite such support by the Israeli government and army, however, SLA morale has waned further this year as a result of Hezbollah attacks.

In February, the SLA official in charge of security in the security zone's western sector, Ghazi Diab, was assassinated. In April, five SLA soldiers were killed in an ambush in retaliation for the killing of a 55-year-old Lebanese civilian in Braachit village.

Hezbollah's increased success at hitting the SLA worries Israeli officials. "We'll have to solve the problem and to clarify to them that this is intolerable and their side must suffer more," said Israeli Maj. Gen. Amiram Levine.

This spring, Israeli forces conducted attacks against resistance figures within south Lebanon villages. Hezbollah Secretary-General Nasrallah declared that although his organization considers the attacks violations of the Damascus Agreement, the agreement still stands.

Low SLA Morale

So far, the increase in Israeli military support has not improved SLA morale. Uri Lubrani, the Israeli military's political coordinator in Lebanon, reported that the SLA's morale was at an all-time low and that this was affecting its fighting ability. As a result, Israeli President Ezer Weizman met with SLA leader Antoine Lahd in south Lebanon on June 12. In an effort to alleviate SLA fears that a peace with Syria will leave them at the mercy of the enemy, Weizman told SLA radio's "Voice of the South" that Israel "will not abandon its friends under any circumstances." To back up that claim, the IDF again turned its guns on the villages of south Lebanon.

On July 4, a 12-year old girl was injured when the IDF shelled the village of Ain-Fjour in the eastern Bekaa Valley. On July 6, Ali Al-Assad, a Hezbollah leader, was killed by an Israeli car bomb. Four days after the three Bader children were killed with the "dart bomb," Hezbollah official Sheikh Khalil Saeed was killed by a bomb near the entrance to his village. Many in Beirut feared the increase in Israeli military activity in the south ultimately would lead to another full-sale operation and mass flight of civilians like that of 1993.

The escalation of Israeli attacks in Lebanon brought a sharp condemnation from the Lebanese government, but there has been little protest from the various Arab capitals—or from the West for that matter—over the Israeli use of illegal weapons and the killing of Arab children in Lebanon.

"There can be no peace with [Israeli] aggression against our people and land, violation of our airspace and waters and continued detention of our sons, without consideration to our independence, human rights or international law," said Lebanon's President Elias Hrawi. "We are ready for a just and comprehensive peace but there will be no peace with our land occupied."

The occupation of south Lebanon will end only after Damascus and Tel Aviv agree to a comprehensive solution to the status of the Golan Heights. In the meantime, both Israel and Syria employ violence as a negotiating tool in Lebanon. Caught between an Iranian-subsidized indigenous resistance militia and Syrian and Israeli occupation armies, the civilian population in south Lebanon pays a high price for political differences between Syria and Israel. In the slow-moving "peace process," an agreement that ends both the Israeli and Syrian occupations of Lebanon must be an urgent priority.

Stephen J. Sosebee, a free-lance journalist, divides his time between the U.S. and Israel/Palestine.