Lebanon leader calls damage ‘unimaginable’
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Lebanon’s prime minister said Wednesday that 300 people have been killed, 1,000 have been wounded and a half-million displaced in Israel’s week-old onslaught on Lebanon.
Speaking to a gathering of foreign ambassadors, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said he would seek compensation from Israel for the “unimaginable losses” to the nation’s infrastructure.
He also made an urgent appeal for an end to the fighting, saying Lebanon “has been torn to shreds.”
“Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries?” he asked.
In a swipe at the international community, particularly the United States, which said Israel was acting in self-defense, Saniora asked: “Is this what the international community calls self defense? Is this the price we pay for aspiring to build our democratic institutions?”
“Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by the State of Israel is inflicted on us?” he added.
“We will spare no avenue to make Israel compensate the Lebanese people for the barbaric destruction” inflicted on the country, he told the gathering, which included U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman.
His comments were the first casualty figure officially announced by the government since Israel began its campaign July 12 after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers.
At the gathering, the ambassadors were shown photos of damage from the Israeli campaign, in which the international airport was hit and closed, roads bombed, bridges destroyed and various regions of the country cut off.
“Only last year, the Lebanese filled the streets with hope and with red, green and white banners shouting out: Lebanon deserves life,” he said, referring to massive anti-Syrian demonstrations that the Bush administration praised and dubbed as the “Cedars Revolution.”
“What kind of life is being offered to us now?” he said. “I will tell you what kind: a life of destruction, despair, displacement, dispossession, and death.”
“We the Lebanese want life, we have chosen life. We refuse to die. Our choice is clear. We have survived wars and destruction over the ages. We shall do so again. I sincerely hope you will not let us down,” he said.
Saniora’s hinted his government might not be able to survive. “No government can survive on the ruins of a nation,” he said.
President Bush, a close ally of Israel, has backed its right to defend itself and denounced Hezbollah as “a group of terrorists who want to stop the advance of peace.”
But he has also expressed worries the Israeli assault could cause the fall of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian government.
Warplanes earlier Wednesday flattened buildings and killed at least 20 people overnight as fighting entered its second week with the U.S. signaling it will not push Israel toward a fast cease-fire.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah showered northern Israel with rockets on Wednesday, killing two people in the mainly Arab town of Nazareth, Israeli authorities said.
The two were killed by a direct hit from a Katyusha rocket, the army said. Nazareth, in northern Israel, is revered as the hometown of Jesus and is filled with churches. It is about 19 miles from the Lebanese border.
Previous attacks during the eight days of rocket barrage have hit the nearby Jewish town of Upper Nazareth, but the latest wave was the first to hit a holy city.
More Hezbollah rockets fell on the Israeli city of Haifa and one hit an empty seafront restaurant. A few people were hurt.