Tel Aviv (Reuters) – The red, white and cedar green of the Lebanese flag were lit up over a Tel Aviv square on Wednesday in a rare show of Israeli solidarity with Beirut as it reels from a devastating explosion.
Israel has been in a technical state of war with Lebanon for generations, and it deems the country’s armed Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah, backed by Iran, the biggest threat across its northern border. Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 and have traded fire again in recent weeks.
But, arguing that “humanity comes before any conflict”, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai ordered City Hall on Rabin Square, named for the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, to be illuminated with the Lebanese flag on Wednesday evening.
“Our hearts are with the Lebanese people following this terrible tragedy,” Huldai wrote on Twitter.
הערב נאיר את בניין העירייה בדגל לבנון. האנושיות קודמת לכל סכסוך, וליבנו עם העם הלבנוני בעקבות האסון הנורא שפקד אותו.— רון חולדאי (@Ron_Huldai) August 5, 2020
The city hall building is lit tonight with the Lebanese flag. Humanity precedes any conflict, and our hearts go out to our Lebanese neighbours in light of the catastrophic event. pic.twitter.com/TAgVQHC8hG— Mayor of Tel Aviv (@MayorOfTelAviv) August 5, 2020
At nightfall, windows on the 13-storey building’s facade were filled with light in the design of Lebanon’s flag: two horizontal red stripes enveloping a wider band of white, with a large green cedar tree – Lebanon’s national symbol – at the centre.
The decision drew criticism from some Israelis, including cabinet minister Rafael Peretz, who on Twitter likened it to “raising (an) enemy state’s flag in the heart of Tel Aviv”.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had offered aid to Lebanon after the massive warehouse explosion in the port district of the capital Beirut on Tuesday that killed at least 135 people and injured over 5,000.
Lebanon has not responded to the overture, according to an Israeli defence official, who suggested that Israel with U.N. support could “set up and operate field hospitals on our side of the border and admit casualties from Lebanon”.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Wednesday a day of mourning and ordered Palestinian flags in the territory lowered to half mast in solidarity with Lebanon.