A Mixture of Regret and Resolve in Israel

  • Share
  • Read Later
Despite rising calls for an immediate cease-fire in the wake of the bombing of a shelter of Lebanese refugees in the town of Qana that killed at least 19 children, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made it clear that he has no intention of stopping his country's campaign against Hizballah.

While  expressing his "deep sorrow at the death of innocent civilians", he told a cabinet meeting that Israel's attack would continue. Israeli press reported that Olmert told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a meeting before the bombing that Israel needed "10 to 14 days" to strike hard at Hizballah.  Military sources say it will take the IDF that long to launch a major ground offensive, one that would thrust as far north into Lebanon as the coastal city of Tyre from where many of Hizballah's rockets are being fired onto Israel. Last week, the Israeli military announced it was calling up an estimated 30,000 reserve troops.

"We will not blink in front of Hizballah and we will not stop the offensive despite the difficult circumstances. It is the right thing to do," Olmert told Israeli ministers. During the same cabinet meeting on Sunday morning, Defense Minister Amir Peretz warned that Israel should brace for a massive "final strike" of missiles by Hizballah. In Lebanon, Hizballah said it would avenge the Qana killings by firing more rockets into central Israel.

Olmert's advisers and military officials frantically spent most of Sunday trying to staunch the international outrage over the incident. The Israeli military claimed that over the past three days 150 Hizballah rockets had been fired on Israel from Qana — and a spokesman claimed they had footage taken in Qana showing rockets being fired and then hidden under houses. Some rockets, according to an IDF spokesman, were shot from as close as "60 meters away" from the building where Lebanese refugees had taken shelter. An Israeli military spokesman said "there was no direct hit on the building when it collapsed." One possibility, he said, is that a strike on a nearby building might have weakend the shelter causing it to fall. The Israelis also claimed that the air force had rained leaflets down on Qana beforehand warning the villagers to flee an impending air strike.

A foreign ministry spokesman Gideon Meir said it was Hizballah's fault for "using their own population as human shields." Justice Minister Haim Ramon took this logic a step further in blaming the Lebanese militia, saying, "Israel is not the one that spilled the blood of the Lebanese children. Hizballah is the one that spilled the blood." But with rescuers still pulling bodies from the rubble in Qana, that's not an explanation that many Lebanese are likely to accept.