Sunday, August 27, 2006

Costly Mistake

The leader of the militant group Hezbollah says that if he could do it all over again, he wouldn't order the capture of Israeli soldiers that ignited the war in Lebanon.
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah in the Aug. 27 TV interview. (New TV/Associated Press)
"You ask me, if I had known on July 11 … that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not," Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with Lebanon's New TV station broadcast Sunday.
"He more or less admitted that he miscalculated," CBC Radio's Mike Hornbrook reported.
The war devastated Lebanon, where at least 850 militants and civilians died in Israeli bombardments and land attacks, while Hezbollah rockets and fighters killed at least 157 Israeli civilians and soldiers. Estimates of the cost of repairing damage to Lebanese buildings, roads and infrastructure run into the billions of dollars.
Hezbollah fighters crossed from Lebanon into northern Israel on July 12, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two more. Israel responded with attacks that lasted until a UN-organized ceasefire took effect on Aug. 14.
"We did not think, even one per cent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude," Nasrallah said.
While Nasrallah claimed victory over Israel when the ceasefire took hold, he apologized in the interview for the suffering of the Lebanese people.
Talks on prisoner swap
Nasrallah also said negotiations with Israel on a prisoner swap are in the early stages.
"Contacts recently began for negotiations," he said.
"The Italians seem to be getting close and are trying to get into the subject. The United Nations is interested," Nasrallah said. The speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, is in charge of negotiations, he added.
Israel won't comment on a prisoner exchange, but officials have said that Israel has 13 Hezbollah prisoners, and dozens of bodies of guerrillas.
On Sunday, Vice-Premier Shimon Peres said there were no negotiations underway at the moment, but he suggested there could be talks once the Lebanese government is in control of the country's south.
Nasrallah, who has been in hiding since the first day of the war, said he believed the Israelis would try and kill him if they knew his whereabouts.
When the ceasefire took effect, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olhmert pledged to "continue pursuing [Hezbollah] everywhere at all times."
Nasrallah also said he did not think fighting would break out soon in Lebanon. "The current Israeli situation, and the available givens tell us that we are not heading to another round," he said.
French soldiers rebuild bridges
French soldiers in Lebanon are helping the Lebanese army rebuild bridges knocked down or damaged during the fighting. That's a necessary first step to being able to move supplies and people around southern Lebanon.
The 240 soldiers are not part of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, which will reinforce the Lebanese army as it tries to maintain the ceasefire.
The troops are expected to work on 15 bridges during at least six weeks they'll remain in Lebanon.
France is also contributing 2,000 soldiers to the 15,000 the UN wants in its peacekeeping force.


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