CAIRO: Human Rights Watch released a report on Thursday condemning the Israeli government for what it called “indiscriminate attacks on civilians during the 2006 Lebanon war, saying that intentional attacks on civilians were responsible for the majority of the more than 1,000 deaths in that conflict.
The New York-based group also says that there is no evidence to support the Israeli argument that most civilians were killed because they were acting as human shields for Hezbollah fighters.
During a five month investigation, researchers visited more than 50 villages in Lebanon and interviewed 316 victims and eyewitnesses, as well as 39 military experts, journalists and officials from the governments of both Israel and Lebanon as well as Hezbollah.
HRW investigated the deaths of 510 individual civilians and 51 combatants, nearly half of all those killed in the war. Of those civilian deaths, more than 300 were unarmed women and children.
According to the report, Israel warned civilians to leave their homes before intentionally targeting neighborhoods it considered sympathetic to Hezbollah. But not all civilians heeded the warnings, and HRW says Israel was aware of that before it began bombing.
“Israel wrongfully acted as if all civilians had heeded its warnings to evacuate southern Lebanon when it knew they had not, disregarding its continuing legal duty to distinguish between military targets and civilians, said Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW. “Issuing warnings doesn’t make indiscriminate attacks lawful.
HRW says that similar logic was behind devastating Israeli attacks on civilian institutions such as charities, schools and hospitals which had no military value.
Because many of these organizations receive funding in whole or in part from the humanitarian arm of the Shia group, Israel considered them legitimate targets. HRW says this too is in violation of international law.
“Israel’s treatment of all parts of Hezbollah as legitimate military targets flies in the face of international legal standards and sets a dangerous precedent, Roth said.
“To accept the argument that any part of Hezbollah can be targeted because it aids the military effort would be to accept that all Israeli institutions that aid the IDF can be targeted.
According to the report, Israeli air strikes often targeted simple movement of civilian vehicles or persons, such as those attempting to buy bread or move inside their own homes, as well as trucks which carried refugees trying to flee the fighting.
HRW says in most of these cases it found no evidence of Hezbollah military involvement that would have justified an attack.
“Hezbollah fighters often didn’t carry their weapons in the open or regularly wear military uniforms, which made them a hard target to identify, said Roth. “But this doesn’t justify the IDF’s failure to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and if in doubt to treat a person as a civilian, as the laws of war require.
The report on Israeli misconduct during the war comes one week after a highly controversial report condemning Hezbollah for similarly targeting Israeli civilians during the fighting.
That report was condemned by political players as diverse as pro-US Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who described it as “scandalous and an act of “political debauchery.
A planned press conference to release the report was cancelled at the last minute under the threat of Hezbollah protests outside the venue.
At the time, HRW said Hezbollah was just trying to bully its critics, and accused the group of running a smear campaign against them.
It says that it is committed to defending human rights and upholding international humanitarian law, no matter what controversy that may create.
“Our focus is on the protection of civilians wherever they may be, and not about taking sides in a conflict, said Sarah Lee Whitson, director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division