Calling Israel's bombing of Lebanon the action of a terrorist state, local Muslim advocacy groups Thursday demanded an immediate cease-fire by all parties in the Middle East conflict and urged that humanitarian aid be sent to areas of Lebanon that have been hard hit.
"The world is watching with shock and dismay at the barbaric destruction of Lebanon by Israel," said Ahmed Rehal, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), during a news conference. "This is a humanitarian crisis in the making."
Israel's offensive against Lebanon began on July 13, after Hezbollah forces entered Israel and abducted two Israeli soldiers. Israel has since vowed to dismantle the radical Islamic faction, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S.
The groups also decried what Rehab termed "a sluggish evacuation process" of the 25,000 U.S. citizens who reside in Lebanon, and emphasized the need for a swift end to the conflict.
"They [U.S. citizens in Beirut] feel abandoned by the U.S.'s inability to call a cease-fire to protect them from Israeli state terrorism," said Rehab.
Jananne Hashim, spokesperson for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), said the "chaos surrounding the exodus of American citizens was unacceptable."
"From Hurricane Katrina to Lebanon, the government's reaction is too slow," said Hashim. "When it does react, it is too little, too late."
Also speaking was Christina Abraham, CAIR's civil rights coordinator, who blasted what she believed to be unwarranted aggression on the part of Israel.
"Hezbollah has captured two Israeli soldiers, whom they have kept alive," said Abraham, who has family in Lebanon. "They [Israel] could have diplomatically negotiated for their release instead of killing hundreds of civilians."
"They say they are attacking Hezbollah, but the airport is not Hezbollah; civilian neighborhoods are not Hezbollah." she added.
Earlier Thursday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also demanded a cease-fire, calling Hezbollah's actions "deplorable." However, he said that while Israel has a right to defend itself, "the excessive use of force is to be condemned."
Responding to the charges made against Israel, a representative from the Jewish United Fund of Chicago expressed concern over the conflict, but said a cease-fire wasn't the answer.
"Israelis have been under siege from terrorists for six years now and it must end," said Linda Haase, the organization's associate vice-president. "The answer is for the terrorists to be routed out."
"Certainly no other sovereign nation would be questioned about the level of its response if a neighboring country went into its sovereign territory and kidnapped its citizens and held them for ransom," she added.
According to the latest reports, 300 people have been killed in Lebanon and another 500,000 have been displaced. Fourteen Israeli soldiers and 15 Israeli civilians have been killed.