July 29, 2006
Editor’s note: “Amongst cabinet members, there are differences of opinion about the policy of deploying IDF troops in southern Lebanon, and perhaps even deeper into the country. Next to those demanding “to flatten” villages prior to IDF’s entrance in order to prevent ambushes to the tune of what happened yesterday in Bint Jbeil, there are also minister calling to limit IDF operations in order to avoid difficult losses and to prevent widened international criticism.”
By KATHY GANNON, Associated Press Writer
A top U.N. peacekeeping official on Friday said he feared the war in southern Lebanon would continue until late August and voiced fears Israel would flatten Lebanon’s southern villages and destroy Tyre “neighborhood by neighborhood” if Hezbollah rockets keep landing in the Jewish state.
At U.N. peacekeeping headquarters in Naqoura, barely a stone’s throw from Israel, political affairs officer Ryszard Morczynski said Tyre would become a target of intense Israeli attacks because Hezbollah was firing rockets from the city’s suburbs into Israel’s northern port of Haifa.
Hezbollah boasted Friday of a new kind of rocket it called the Khaibar-1 that it fired deeper inside Israel than the hundreds of others since the outbreak of fighting more than two weeks ago.
“I have no doubt that Israel will flatten Tyre if civilian casualties continue in Haifa. Tyre will be taken off neighborhood by neighborhood,” Morczynski said. “I think Israel is contemplating flattening villages, flattening every single house to deny Hezbollah any advantage of urban fighting in the streets.”
He estimated that 80 percent of the roughly half-million people who live in southern Lebanon have already fled the embattled area. He also said he feared the civilian death toll in Lebanon was more than 600, well more than the official count of 400-plus.
“Hezbollah are still strong” 17 days into the conflict, peacekeeping chief, Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini told The Associated Press.
And according to Morczynski’s calculation, roughly 800 Hezbollah fighters operate in the southern region on any given day.
“They are mobile, well-prepared, devoted and willing to act,” he said. “When there is shelling … they are not sitting in their bunkers.”
The Hezbollah stronghold of Bent Jbail attests to the militants’ tenacity.
“In Bent Jbail it looks like the Israelis have pulled out and are now preparing the ground to come in again,” Morczynski said, after Hezbollah fighters had pushed the limited Israeli ground force to the southern edges of the town.
Also, he said, there was evidence Hezbollah’s communications were intact and their fire-and-run tactics were still effective. There was no sign that the guerrillas’ supply of rockets was dwindling and Israel has had limited success in targeting their launchers.
Morczynski said the peacekeepers occasionally intercept Hezbollah communications. He recalled a typical such exchange: “Allah is great. My brothers this is number 13 and we are going to operation number 7. We hope that our brothers are safe for the day.” Hezbollah uses numbers and letters as codes to identify the fighter and the location.
Hezbollah firepower would seem to be a combination of sophisticated missiles and the older Katyusha rockets, Morczynski said. Some rockets are launched from the back of trucks, while older ones are ferried on motorcycles and fired from portable triangular-shaped launchers.
“They have thousands of them. They are scattered everywhere — in caves, houses, bushes, abandoned buildings. They aren’t all in one, two or three depots that you can hit and say now we have wiped them out,” he said adding Israel wanted to clear Hezbollah from a two-kilometer strip along its northern border.
“The only way to prevent the launch of rockets is to erase all launching positions of Hezbollah. That is the only solution,” Pellegrini said. “But it is difficult.”
Despite the sophistication of the Israeli military machine, the advantage seems still to lay with Hezbollah, Morczynski said. While it takes the Israelis only about two minutes to target the origin of a Hezbollah rocket and retaliate, it hasn’t stopped the barrage and it is unclear how many fighters have been hit.
The thrust of the Israeli attack is still with its air force but Morczynski said he anticipated a large-scale invasion if the hostilities continued.
“It is clear that if the pace of the war continues as it is today it will continue until the end of August,” Morczynski said.
While Israel is reluctant to wage a ground assault, he said it would be unavoidable in another two weeks because the Israeli Defense Force will need a victory.
“Now the war is going on too long without any big success. Something has to happen soon because they have to show some success to the Israeli public,” he said.
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