UN official fears Israel will raze Tyre

Member of peacekeeping force says Hizbullah still has advantage over Israel.

tyre attack 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
tyre attack 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
A top UN peacekeeping official on Friday said he feared the war in southern Lebanon would continue until the end of August and voiced fears Israel would flatten Lebanon's southern villages and destroy the port of Tyre "neighborhood by neighborhood" if Hizbullah rockets keep slamming into the Jewish state. At UN peacekeeping headquarters in Naqaura, barely a stone's throw from Israel, political affairs officer Ryszard Morczynski said Tyre would become a target of intense Israeli attacks because Hizbullah was firing rockets from the city's suburbs into Haifa. "I have no doubt that Israel will flatten Tyre if civilian casualties continue in Haifa. Tyre will be taken off neighborhood by neighborhood," Morczynski warned. "I think Israel is contemplating flattening villages, flattening every single house to deny Hizbullah any advantage of urban fighting in the streets." He estimated that 80 percent of the roughly half-million people who live in Southern Lebanon, demarcated by the Litani River, have already fled the embattled area. He also said he feared the civilian death toll in Lebanon was more than 600, well more than the official count of 400-plus. "Hizbullah are still strong" 17 days into the conflict, peacekeeping chief, Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini told The Associated Press. And according to Morczynski's calculation roughly 800 Hizbullah fighters operate in the southern region on any given day. "They are mobile, well-prepared, devoted and willing to act. When there is shelling ... they are not sitting in their bunkers." The Hizbullah stronghold of Bint Jbail attests to Hizbullah's tenacity. "In Bint Jbail it looks like the Israelis have pulled out and are now preparing the ground to come in again," Morczynski said, after Hizbullah fighters had pushed the limited Israeli ground force to the southern edges of the town. Also, he said, there was evidence Hizbullah's communications were intact and their fire-and-run tactics were still effective. There was no sign that their supply of rockets was dwindling and Israel has had limited success in targeting their launchers, often crude and mobile. Morczynski said the peacekeepers occasionally intercept Hizbullah communications. He recalled a typical such exchange: "Allah is great. My brothers this is number 13 and we are going to operation number 7. We hope that our brothers are safe for the day." Hizbullah uses numbers and letters as codes to identify the fighter and the location. Hizbullah firepower would seem to be a combination of sophisticated missiles and the older Katyusha rockets, Morczynski said. Some are launched from the back of trucks, while the small, older rockets are ferried on motorcycles and launched from portable triangular shaped launchers. "They have thousands of them. They are scattered everywhere - in caves, houses, bushes, abandoned buildings. They aren't all in one, two or three depots that you can hit and say now we have wiped them out," he said adding Israel wanted to clear Hizbullah from a two kilometer strip along its northern border. "The only way to prevent the launch of rockets is to erase all launching positions of Hizbullah. That is the only solution," Pellegrini said. "But it is difficult." Despite the sophistication of the Israeli military machine, the advantage seems still to lay with Hizbullah, said Morczynski. While it only takes the Israelis about two minutes to target the origin of a Hizbullah rocket and retaliate, it hasn't stopped the rocket fire and it is very unclear how many fighters have been hit. The thrust of the Israeli attack is still with its air force but Morczynski said he anticipated a large scale invasion if the hostilities continued. "It is clear that if the pace of the war continues as it is today it will continue until the end of August," said Morczynski. While Israel is reluctant to wage a ground assault, he said it would be unavoidable in another two weeks because the Israeli Defense Force will need a victory. "Now the war is going on too long without any big success. Something has to happen soon because they have to show some success to the Israeli public," he said. Rarely does a day pass, Pellegrini said, that his compound and its environs in Naqaurna isn't hit by Israeli artillery. His headquarters is in a dangerous position because Hizbullah fighters get close to the UN compound to fire their rockets putting the headquarters in the crossfire. Pellegrini said his worst experience was 1984 - also in Lebanon.