UN powerless to stop Lebanon violence
The killing of four UN peacekeepers by an Israeli attack has come to represent the world body’s impotence in pushing for a ceasefire in Lebanon.
The UN flag flew at half mast at its New York headquarters, and shocked UN staff tried to digest the news that four United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers had been killed after their base was hit by Israeli shelling this week.
Kofi Annan, the secretary-general, was clear about apportioning blame, earning the ire of Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the UN.
Annan said that the peacekeepers were “apparently deliberately targeted”. Gillerman called Annan “irresponsible”.
But the deaths have served to highlight the UN’s inability to keep any sort of peace or bring about the ceasefire that both Annan and his chief humanitarian spokesman, Jan Egeland, have been calling for.
The Rome conference has come and gone, but Israeli bombing sorties over Lebanon and Hezbollah rocket attacks on Haifa continue.
The suspicion among many member states is that the US, supported by Britain, does not want a ceasefire; that George Bush and Tony Blair have given the green light to Israel to root out Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
Bush and Blair continue to cite resolution 1559, saying that the militias not only started the current round of conflict, but were in southern Lebanon in direct contravention of the resolution.
Kofi Annan: UN peacekeepers
‘apparently deliberately targeted
A ceasefire, they say, could only come about if a permanent solution is found that would protect both Israel and allow the Lebanese to patrol their own southern borders.
The history of innumerable UN resolutions in the Middle East is that they tend to be ignored, and for Israel’s critics, the fact that the Palestinian territories remain occupied in defiance of successive UN resolutions, is proof that the West is far from being an impartial referee in the region.
Egeland qualified the ceasefire call, with a demand for an immediate “cessation of hostilities” as a precursor to a permanent ceasefire, policed by an international force and under a UN mandate.
Meanwhile, Annan’s call for the mandate for the existing UN peacekeepers to be extended for one month, rather than six – appeared hopelessly optimistic, giving a timeline for a new force without any of the essential building blocks in place.
The focus now moves back to UN headquarters, as one of those blocks – fleshed out proposals for a multinational force – is proposed by the Americans and the British.
But there is no denying that while real blood continues to be spilled in the Middle East, there is a metaphoric blood on the carpets at UN headquarters.
The Chinese were infuriated at the “watering down” of a Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli attack on the UN peacekeepers and seeking an inquiry, and they were not the only ones.
If the UN seems powerless to do much more than make a humanitarian appeal for Lebanon, the world seems incapable of offering much more than warm words to the Lebanese who have suffered most in the Hezbollah-Israeli war.
As the casualties mount and as Lebanon’s cities smoulder, many in the Middle East and outside wonder why the world’s leaders and diplomats seem either unwilling or unable to bring an early end to their suffering.
The deeper damage is to Lebanon, which appears to have fallen victim to a proxy war being played out on its soil.