Lebanese in Qana say UNIFIL will protect Israel

QANA — Qana residents whose village was targeted in a devastating air strike in July suspect the true aims of the strengthened UN force being assembled in south Lebanon are to protect Israel and further US goals in the Middle East.

“Israel is a criminal nation and the United Nations stands by its side,” said Khalil Shalhub by the grave of his fiancee on the outskirts of Qana. She died on July 30 along with 28 others when Israeli jets bombed their shelter. Sixteen children were among the dead. Khalil said the deployment of a revitalised United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was “really aimed at protecting Israel and disarming Hizbollah”, the Shiite group that had controlled much of southern Lebanon.

Hundreds of Italian soldiers landed Saturday on a beach in Tyre, the first major reinforcement of UNIFIL troops who have been stationed in the south ever since 1978. But in the rubble-strewn streets and among the mourning families of nearby Khoraybe, the UN operation has sparked little enthusiasm. “I do not believe international troops can prevent Israel from committing more massacres,” sighed Leila, who lost her sister and three children in the Qana attack, which Israel said targeted Hizbollah rocket launchers.

A condemnation of the Israeli air strike by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan did nothing to ease her grief.

Annan said in a report that the bombing illustrated “a pattern of violations of international law” in the 34-day Israel-Hizbollah war that cost some 1,200 lives in Lebanon.

Shopkeeper Mahmoud Hamade warned that “if the UNIFIL soldiers act like [coalition troops] in Iraq and Afghanistan, they can start digging their own graves.” Like many in predominantly Shiite southern Lebanon, he suspected that “this reinforced UNIFIL could be a cover for the application of a Great Middle East project by the United States.” Washington has said it seeks to promote democracy in Arab countries. In the Qana market, meanwhile, the tone was cooler and residents hoped the UNIFIL would play the role of “referee”. “The arrival of international troops is an excellent thing, we thank the Europeans in particular but they must not take Israel’s side,” said Mussa Abu Eid. “We welcome foreign soldiers and want the others to leave so we can live in peace,” said a man in his fifties who did not wish to give his name. While Hizbollah has strong backing in the region, not all appreciate its dominant presence, particularly residents of Christian towns and villages.

Not far away however, in the village of Siddiqin which was almost completely flattened by Israeli shelling, a young girl burned pages from a newspaper to light up her home, hit by power cuts.

“We cannot trust Israel,” said her father Ali Balhas, a member of the Shiite party Amal, which is allied with Hizbollah. “Even if the US army landed in southern Lebanon it could not stop Israeli troops from launching offensives against Lebanon.” A neighbour added: “All this was planned in advance to allow the United States to carry out its project for a Great Middle East, and UNIFIL is the bridge by which the plan will arrive.

“They are here to protect Israel, not Lebanon.” Next door, the 12 members of Hussein Balhas’s family openly displayed their support of Hizbollah, “the only ones who can defend us.”

“What happened in 1982?” Balhas asked in reference to an Israeli invasion that took its troops all the way to Beirut. “Did UNIFIL protect us during the Israeli invasion?”  

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