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United Nations humanitarian chief Jan Egeland accused Israel on Wednesday of committing "catastrophic mistakes" in its attack on Hizbullah, which have caused civilian casualties and alienated the Lebanese public.
"It will create a generation of hatred," he said in an interview held with The Jerusalem Post after he had concluded tours of northern Israel, Gaza and Lebanon.
"I'm talking more as a friend of Israel than as an aid worker," said Egeland, who noted that he studied at Jerusalem's Hebrew University as a Truman Fellow, while his brother lived on a kibbutz.
The UN's under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Egeland called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. "The rockets have to stop. The terror has to stop. But please remember that for every civilian killed in Israel there are more than 10 killed in Lebanon. It has to stop on both sides." He charged that Israel had used "excessive" and "disproportionate" force in violation of international humanitarian law, and dismissed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's contention that proportionality is measured in relation to the threat posed by a force.
"You cannot invent new kinds of proportionalities. I've never heard that the threat is supposed to be proportional to the response," he said. "Proportionality is there in the law. The law has been made through generations of experience on the battlefield. If you kill more civilians than military personnel, one should not attack," he said.
Egeland reiterated his condemnations of Hizbullah's tactics. "Armed men should not cowardly hide among civilians. It will inflict civilians casualties," he said, calling Hizbullah's cross-border kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers "a mega-catastrophe."
But, he stressed, "Civilians must be protected, and when there are many more dead children than armed men, something is fundamentally wrong, not only with how the armed men behave and where they seek hiding, but also in the response."
He criticized Israel for telling residents of southern Lebanon to flee but destroying the roads that would let them escape.
At a press conference held earlier Wednesday, Egeland said the UN was distributing more than 100 tons of medical supplies and would be sending additional convoys on Friday, Sunday and Monday. He called on the international community to come up with the $150 million in aid money he estimated would be needed to get through the next three months.
While agreement in principle had been reached on a sea route, he said, the UN was still waiting to establish an air channel.
Egeland placed the current number of displaced Lebanese at upward of 600,000 and said he expected it to soon top a million people. He indicated he could not provide a figure for displaced Israelis because Israel hadn't asked the UN for assistance. The Government Press Office puts the number at 250,000 individuals.
He said he was deeply struck by what he had observed first-hand during his tour of the region, particularly the "Christians, Druse, Maronites, Sunnis, who all hated Israel" when before they had hated Hizbullah, and the rubble of Beirut, which he said looked "a little bit like the end of the Second World War. It was block after block after block down in some kind of a carpet bombing."
While the results of the attacks might be different, Egeland said that Israelis and Lebanese suffered "the same sense of terror." He described his distress by the scene that had greeted him in Haifa.
"I remember Haifa as a city of moderation and reconciliation and peace, and now to see people running to shelters and see many of its citizens being wounded is just terrible," he said. "It's heartrending to hear the stories."
Egeland toured Haifa with Livni and the city's mayor Yona Yahav.
Egeland was taken to the site of a apartment in the city's coastal area that had been destroyed by a missile and to a lookout point on top of the hill where the police and army observe the location of rocket hits.
Livni later told reporters that she had wanted to meet in him Haifa so that he could see first-hand what life was life for residents in the North suffering under the daily barrage of Hizbullah rockets.
Yahav said he had showed Egeland the small metal pellets that are packed into the rockets so he would understand the lethal potential of each missile.
Egeland got a taste of daily life in Haifa when several warning sirens shrieked across the city during his visit.
Egeland told Yahav and Livni that both Israelis and Lebanese were paying a high price for the violence that had to be stopped.
Yahav said he thought the visit had gone well.
"I had a profound feeling that I succeeded in converting him. He was able to see the reality in front of him and what it means. I asked him what he would have said if I had given shelter to a terrorist group in my city. He said, 'You are right,'" reported Yahav.