Israel Prepares to Send Troops into Lebanon
The Israeli Army is calling up reserve battalions, preparing for what is likely to be a limited ground invasion of southern Lebanon. Thousands of troops are massing along Israel's border with Lebanon ahead of what is expected to be a protracted fight between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerillas.
Israel's government is coming under increasing pressure from European leaders to temper their airstrikes against targets in Lebanon. So far, more than 330 Lebanese have died in the fighting and about 33 Israelis have been killed.
Israel blames Hezbollah for the sparking the crisis after a cross-border raid by the militants on July 12 that left eight Israeli soldiers dead and two captured.
But leaders around the world are increasingly criticizing Israel for what they see as a "disproportionate" Israeli response. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan denounced what he called Israel's "excessive use of force" and Hezbollah for "holding an entire nation hostage."
Israel says it is determined to remove the long-term threat Hezbollah poses. The militant group's original objective was to eject Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon. Israel had occupied a strip of Lebanese land along the country's border with Israel for more than two decades before withdrawing in 2000.
Since then, according to regional analysts, Hezbollah has amassed thousands of missiles along Lebanon’s border with Israel and, on occasion, has launched attacks into northern Israel.
Though the United Nations Security Council has passed two resolutions calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, the Lebanese government has argued that it is too weak to confront the group. Hezbollah receives much of its funding and training from Iran. Teheran reportedly sends more than $100 million a year to Hezbollah.
Diplomatic efforts to end the fighting have, so far, been unsuccessful. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will head to the region this weekend in a bid to put forward a package that could end the fighting.
Israel is demanding the release of its two abducted soldiers and the removal of Hezbollah militants from the Israel-Lebanon border.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has said he will not release the Israeli soldiers unless Israel agrees to trade several Lebanese and Palestinian militants currently in Israeli jails.
Meanwhile, as the death toll mounts in Lebanon, the government is warning of an imminent humanitarian crisis. Food and medicine are running low in some parts of the country. More than half-a-million Lebanese citizens have been temporarily displaced by the fighting and Israel has warned residents in southern Lebanon to leave their homes in advance of a possible ground invasion.
Israel says it will open up a sea corridor into Lebanon to allow for humanitarian aid to flow in. Since the Israeli operation began on July 13, Israeli naval vessels have blockaded Lebanese waters. The Israeli government says the blockade is designed to make sure the two abducted soldiers cannot be removed from the country.
Despite the Israeli air assault, Hezbollah managed to launch more rockets at Israel on Friday, wounding 16 people in the Israeli port city of Haifa.
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