[JURIST] US-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Thursday that indiscriminate Israeli air and artillery strikes on Lebanese civilians cannot be systematically dismissed as accidents [HRW statement] and called several of Israel's attacks "war crimes" in a new report [text]. HRW has been investigating the continuing Middle East conflict [JURIST news archive] by interviewing attack survivors, officials from Lebanon's government, members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [official website], and by visiting hospitals and bomb sites. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said:
The pattern of attacks shows the Israeli militarys disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians. Our research shows that Israels claim that Hezbollah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israels indiscriminate warfare.Reuters has more.
Hezbollah fighters must not hide behind civilians thats an absolute but the image that Israel has promoted of such shielding as the cause of so high a civilian death toll is wrong. In the many cases of civilian deaths examined by Human Rights Watch, the location of Hezbollah troops and arms had nothing to do with the deaths because there was no Hezbollah around.
Meanwhile Thursday, UK-based Amnesty International [advocacy website] called for an independent investigation [press release] of the Israeli air strike on the Lebanese village of Qana [JURIST report] earlier this week reported to have killed some 60 civilians, calling Israel's own probe of the bombing [IDF statement] a "whitewash." As announced Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces inquiry concluded:
The building [destroyed in the Qana raid] was targeted in accordance with the military's guidelines regarding the use of fire against suspicious structures inside villages whose residents have been warned to evacuate, and which were adjacent to areas from where rockets are fired towards Israel. The guidelines were drafted based on surveillance and study of the behavior of the terrorists, who use civilian structures inside villages to store weaponry and hide in after launching rockets attacks.Amnesty contends the IDF must have known about the presence of the civilians through its frequent surveillance passes over the area. The rights group has called for an urgent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission [official website] set up by Article 90 of the 1977 Protocol I relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts [text]. On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour similarly called for an independent inquiry [JURIST report] into Qana, saying that was necessary "in order to establish facts and conduct an impartial legal analysis of the persistent allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during this conflict."
Since July 12th over 150 rockets were launched from within the village of Qana itself and the immediate surrounding area. The residents of Qana and the villages surrounding it were warned several times, through various media, to evacuate the area.
The IDF operated according to information that the building was not inhabited by civilians and was being used as a hiding place for terrorists.
Had the information indicated that civilians were present in the building the attack would not have been carried out.
Thursday's Human Rights Watch report incidentally cast some doubt [HRW report section] on the originally-reported Qana death toll: "Initial reports after the attack put the death toll at fifty-four, which was based on a register of sixty-three persons who had sought shelter in the building that was struck, and the rescue teams ability to locate only nine survivors. Human Rights Watch learned after a visit to Qana that at least twenty-two people escaped the basement, and twenty-eight are confirmed dead. The fate of the remaining thirteen people who hid in the basement is unknown, and village representatives believe they remain buried in the debris."