Human Rights Watch slams Israel for targeting Lebanese civilians

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on the Israel’s killing of civilians in its aerial bombardment of Lebanon during the past three weeks.

The U.S-based rights group said Thursday that Israel’s military appears to have deliberately bombed civilians in Lebanon and some of its strikes constitute war crimes.

HRW said it based its report on interviews with survivors of attacks, visits to blast sites and information from hospitals, aid groups, Lebanon’s government and the Israeli Army.

The HRW report was released on the same day as the Israelis announced the results of an investigation into the air strike on a building in the southern Lebanese town of Qana, in which at least 55 people, including children, were killed.

The probe found that the army “made a mistake”, but claimed that Hezbollah guerrillas used civilians as human shields for their rocket attacks.

The Israeli statement on Qana seems to belie the statement made Monday by the Army that no Hezbollah activity took place in Qana before the strike.

HRW made it clear that Israel’s contention that Hezbollah fighters hide among Lebanese civilians did not justify its "systematic failure" to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

In a statement accompanying its report released Thursday, HRW stated, “The failures cannot be dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on wrongful Hezbollah practices. In some cases, these attacks constitute war crimes", It added, “In some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians”.

But according to B’Tselem, the Israeli Human Rights organization, even if the armed forces did not intend to strike civilians, as senior Army and government officials state repeatedly, investigations raise a grave concern that these attacks were launched without taking due caution and without verifying that the targets were not civilian structures, as required by the laws of war.

Furthermore, according to the principle of proportionality, it is forbidden to carry out an attack, even against a military object, with the knowledge that it is liable to cause injury to civilians that is excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated from the attack.

Thus, even if the killing of civilians in Lebanon resulted from their proximity to armed Hezbollah or to weapons, the magnitude of the "collateral" harm to civilians raises the grave concern that these attacks are disproportionate.

HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said in the many cases of civilian Lebanese deaths investigated by the rights group, the location of Hezbollah members or their weapons stores appeared to have no bearing on the areas attacked.

At least 800 Lebanese, mostly civilians, have died in the strikes. The HRW report said that this included strikes against civilian vehicles fleeing the violence in southern Lebanon, which Israel says is the targeting of Hezbollah arms and their transport routes. "Israeli forces have fired with warplanes and artillery on dozens of civilian vehicles, many flying white flags," it said.

Furthermore, the report stated that there is no evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch or reported to date by independent media sources that any of the attacks on vehicles documented in the report resulted in Hezbollah casualties or the destruction of weapons."

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