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August 3, 2006

US to Supply Food With One Hand, Arms With Other

by Thalif Deen

As Israel's bombing of Lebanon continues unabated into its fourth consecutive week, the United States says it stands ready to provide food, medicine, and humanitarian assistance to the thousands of internally displaced Lebanese caught in the crossfire.

But Washington has also decided to accelerate the supply of lethal weapons to Israel – "perhaps intended to kill the very Lebanese the United States is planning to feed and shelter," says one Arab diplomat at the United Nations.

"It is U.S. hypocrisy at its worst," he told IPS, speaking on condition of anonymity, because his country receives millions of dollars in U.S. economic aid.

"The right hand obviously does not know what its left hand is up to. Or does it?" he asked.

Irene Khan, secretary-general of the London-based Amnesty International (AI), is equally harsh in her reaction. "It is ridiculous to talk about providing humanitarian aid on the one hand, and to provide arms on the other," she says.

In the face of such human suffering in Lebanon and Israel, Khan says, "It is imperative that all governments stop the supply of arms and weapons to both sides immediately."

Asked if there is a contradiction between the two, President George W. Bush told reporters last week: "No. I don't see a contradiction in us honoring commitments made prior to Hezbollah attacks into Israeli territory."

Bush also made an obvious slip when he said: "I am concerned about loss of innocent life, and we will do everything we can to help move equipment… I mean, food and medicines, to help the people who have been displaced and the people who suffer."

In a statement released last week, AI quoted British press reports relating to two chartered Airbus A310 cargo planes filled with GBU 28 laser-guided bombs containing depleted uranium (DU) warheads and destined for the Israeli air force landing at Prestwick airport, near Glasgow. The planes landed for refueling and crew-rests after flying from the United States.

"Other reports claimed that the USA has requested that two more planes be permitted to land in the UK en route to Israel in the next two weeks. The reports said the aircraft will be carrying other weapons, including bombs and missiles," AI said.

"The UK government should refuse permission for its sea and air ports to be used by planes or ships carrying arms and military equipment destined for Israel or Hezbollah," said Khan.

Amnesty International has also written to British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett urging the government to suspend its own sale or transfer of all arms and military equipment to Israel.

Beckett was quoted as saying: "We have already let the United States know that this is an issue that appears to be seriously at fault, and we will be making a formal protest if it appears that that is what has happened."

Meanwhile, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Israelis of using artillery-fired cluster munitions in populated areas of Lebanon.

"Cluster munitions are unacceptably inaccurate and unreliable weapons when used around civilians," Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW warned. "They should never be used in populated areas."

Armed mostly with state-of-the-art U.S.-supplied fighter planes and combat helicopters, the Israeli military is capable of matching a combination of all or most of the armies in Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

The annual survey of U.S. arms sales, conducted by the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS), shows a total of $8.4 billion of arms deliveries to Israel in the 1997-2004 period, with fully $7.1 billion or 84.5 percent coming from a single source: the United States.

A major factor in this trend was the rise in U.S. Foreign Military Financing – outright U.S. grants to Israel – which now totals about $2.3 billion a year paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

Meanwhile, AI's Khan said the pattern of attacks and the extent of civilian casualties show a blatant disregard of international humanitarian law by Israel and Hezbollah.

She also said that "direct targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure and launching indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks amount to war crimes."

Francis A. Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law, says that the 192-member UN General Assembly must immediately establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI) as a "subsidiary organ" under UN Charter Article 22.

The ICTI would be organized along the lines of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), which was established by the Security Council in 1993.

"The purpose of the ICTI would be to investigate and prosecute Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against the peoples of Lebanon and Palestine – just as the ICTY did for the victims of international crimes committed by Serbia and the Milosevic regime throughout the Balkans," Boyle told IPS.

Furthermore, the establishment of ICTI by the General Assembly would serve as a deterrent effect upon Israeli leaders, including the prime minister, defense minister, the chief of staff, and Israel's other top generals that they will be prosecuted for their further infliction of international crimes upon the Lebanese and the Palestinians, said Boyle, author of Biowarfare and Terrorism (Clarity Press: 2005) and Destroying World Order (Clarity Press: 2004).

Without such a deterrent, he said, Israel might be emboldened to attack Syria with the full support of the U.S. right-wing neoconservatives, who have always viewed Syria as "low-hanging fruit" ready to be taken out by means of their joint aggression.

The Israeli press has reported that the Bush administration is encouraging Israel to attack Syria. If Israel attacks Syria as it did when it invaded Lebanon in 1982, Iran has vowed to come to Syria's defense.

"This scenario could readily degenerate into World War III," warned Boyle. "For the UN General Assembly to establish ICTI could stop the further development of this momentum toward a regional if not global catastrophe."

(Inter Press Service)

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    Thalif Deen has been Inter Press Service's U.N. Bureau Chief since 1992. A
    former Information Officer at the U.N. Secretariat and a one-time member of
    the Sri Lanka delegation to the General Assembly sessions, he is currently
    editor of the Journal of the Group of 77, published in collaboration with
    IPS. A Fulbright-Hayes scholar, he holds a Master's degree in Journalism
    from Columbia University in New York.

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