Lebanon and Chechnya

The soil of Lebanon will burn," stated Israel's foreign minister, David Levy, this week in a threat aimed at ending guerrilla attacks on Israel.

Like the Russian war in Chechnya, Israel's war in Lebanon has brought tragedy for civilians. Israeli warplanes hit electrical transformers and other infrastructure targets in Lebanon this week, plunging parts of the country into darkness and wounding at least 15 Lebanese civilians.

Russia's campaign to wipe out a guerrilla force trying to free the republic of Chechnya has forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee, with untold numbers killed.

Israel's long war in Lebanon is aimed at ending rocket attacks by Muslim Hizbullah guerrillas backed by Syria and Iran. Lebanon, which is under Syria's thumb, is a proxy battleground between Israel and Syria.

Both Russia and Israel justified civilian losses as part of conducting a defensive war against guerrillas that allegedly use civilians for cover. "Whatever it will take to defend our citizens, we will do it, as would, in the same situation, any free-world government," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak

But intentionally damaging civilians to curb guerrilla attacks is something else. That goes against international norms and, for Israel, violates a 1996 agreement that the United States brokered after Israeli attacks in Lebanon that hit civilians.

The latest Hizbullah attacks may be a Syrian tactic to force concessions from Israel in peace talks. And they also reinforce sentiment among Israelis for a unilateral withdrawal from Israel's self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon.

Israel claims Hizbullah broke the 1996 agreement. United Nations officials on the ground in Lebanon dispute that. Whatever the trigger event, Mr. Levy's "Lebanon will burn" comment fuels criticism that Israel cares little about Arab civilians.

Russia claims it is not intentionally targeting civilians in Chechnya. Yet, in bombarding the capital city of Grozny and finally taking it this week, Russian jets hit civilians living in city buildings. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the conflict had inflicted "an incredible amount of misery" on civilians.

The US is doing what it can to reduce civilian misery in both Chechnya and Lebanon. But both Russia and Israel can do more to live up to international standards.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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