A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Lebanon
Exceptionally, there will be occasions when this site will publish a post that is not related to football. Indeed, it has happened only once before, when Redsman published a post on 7 July 2005 expressing our condolences to all those directly affected by the suicide bomb attacks of that day on the public transport services in Central London.
The news today that more than 54 civilians, including at least 34 children, have been killed in an Israeli air strike on the southern Lebanese town of Qana, is the tipping point for me to express on this site my sheer frustration and sadness at the widespread civilian suffering and destruction of infrastructure in Lebanon over the past 19 days (At this point I should make it clear that I'm writing in a personal capacity, and shall not presume that my views are shared by all my colleagues at EFT).
The Lebanese health minister now says about 750 people - mostly civilians and about a third of them children - have been killed by Israeli action in Lebanon since their operations began 19 days ago. Many more civilians have been injured; while around 800,000 people from the population of 3.5 million have now been internally displaced, many of whose homes have been destroyed by Israel's military pounding of residential areas. Sadly too, at least 18 Israeli civilians have died in this time due to the indiscriminate firing of Hezbollah rockets into northern Israel.
After the air strike on Qana, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Sinoura, cancelled a planned meeting with the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Reuters and the BBC both report that he demanded an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and that he will not enter into negotiations until a ceasefire in place.
The consistent failure by my own government to publicly demand an immediate ceasefire while this humanitarian catastrophe is being reaped upon the Lebanese people is utterly deplorable. Tony Blair's stance to publicly stand side-by-side with the US administration in giving Israel the green light to continue their excessive and disproportionate use of military force in gross violation of international humanitarian law is counter to the majority of British public opinion (see Guaridan/ICM poll published on 25 July), as well as the opinion of the vast majority of the international community and the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
Further, the Leader of the House of Commons and Cabinet member, Jack Straw, publicly condemned Israel's 'disproportionate' use of force in a statement yesterday, plus it is reported in today's Observer newspaper that many other members of Blair's own Cabinet pressed him this week to break with the Americans and publicly criticise Israel over the scale of death and destruction.
Next Saturday, 5 August, there will be a major national demonstration in London repeating the Lebanese Prime Minister's demand for an immediate and unconditonal ceasefire. The meeting point will be at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park at 12 noon, and the demonstration will march to 10 Downing Street where a signed petition will be delivered. I hope many can attend so to powerfully show Tony Blair that a large swathe of the British public uneqiuvocally oppose his current position, and want the killing and destruction to stop now.
It may be asking too much to think that a show of public protest can influence those in power. But those who oppose the unwillingness of our Prime Minister to publicly demand an immediate ceasefire as the unlawful conduct of Israel and Hezbollah has wrought enormous cost to civilian life and infrastructure have, I think, a duty to try to prompt a change.