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HRW Hezbollah must end attacks on civilians

Rocket Attacks on Civilians in Israel Are War Crimes

New York, August 5, 2006 – Hezbollah must immediately stop firing rockets into civilian areas in Israel, Human Rights Watch said today. Entering the fourth week of attacks, such rockets have claimed 30 civilian lives, including six children, and wounded hundreds more.  Lobbing rockets blindly into civilian areas is without doubt a war crime. Nothing can justify this assault on the most fundamental standards for sparing civilians the hazards of war.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

“Lobbing rockets blindly into civilian areas is without doubt a war crime,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. ”Nothing can justify this assault on the most fundamental standards for sparing civilians the hazards of war.”

Hezbollah claims that some of its attacks are aimed at military bases inside Israel, which are legitimate targets. But most of the attacks appear to have been directed at civilian areas and have hit pedestrians, hospitals, schools, homes and businesses.

Since July 12, when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight, Human Rights Watch researchers have been documenting the war’s impact on civilians in Israel and Lebanon, interviewing the witnesses and survivors of attacks, as well as doctors, emergency workers, police, military and government officials.

As of August 4, Hezbollah had launched a reported 2,500 rockets into predominantly civilian areas in northern Israel. Some longer-range rockets landed as far south as the city of Hadera, some 85 km from the border. Hezbollah announced that it had attacked Hadera on August 4 in retaliation for an Israeli air raid in Lebanon earlier that day that reportedly killed more than 20 farm workers.

Yesterday, Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, offered to stop bombing Israel’s “northern settlements” if the Israeli military stopped bombing Lebanon’s “cities and civilians.” He also warned that an Israeli attack on Beirut would result in Hezbollah bombing Tel Aviv.

In a report issued on August 3, “Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon,” Human Rights Watch documented a systematic failure by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to distinguish between combatants and civilians. In some cases, the timing and intensity of the attack, the absence of a military target, as well as subsequent strikes on rescuers, suggest that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians. Yesterday, Israeli bombing reportedly killed at least 40 civilians in Lebanon.

“Human Rights Watch has documented the Israeli military’s persistent use of indiscriminate force, which has killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians,” Roth said. “But war crimes by one side in a conflict never justify war crimes by another. Hezbollah must stop using the excuse of Israeli misconduct to justify its own.”

Northern Israel, an area populated by about one 1 million people, has come to a virtual standstill because of Hezbollah’s rockets, which are exacting an enormous human and economic toll. Authorities believe that up to half the population has left the area, while the rest are living in constant fear of the air raid sirens that warn of attacks.

Human Rights Watch said many of those who remain in northern Israel are unable to leave because they don’t have relatives elsewhere in the country or the resources to pay for alternative accommodation. Some stay behind to care for relatives who are disabled or infirm, or because they work as emergency and medical personnel.

“Who is left here in Kiryat Shmona; the weakest part of the population,” Shimon Kamari, the deputy mayor of Kiryat Shmona, only a few kilometers from the northern border, told Human Rights Watch. “The elderly and those who can’t afford hotels, because to stay for such a long time is very expensive.”

Hezbollah has fired three different types of weapons at Israel so far. The vast majority are 122mm Katyusha rockets, while 220mm Fajr rockets have landed in the cities of Haifa and Nazareth. Hezbollah has also fired several 302mm Khaiber-1 rockets; the first of these landed on July 28 in empty areas near Afula, 50 km south of the border, and another wave hit near Hadera on August 4. In addition, Hezbollah said it had fired Khaiber-1 rockets at Beit Shean on August 2.

Some of the rockets, such as those that killed eight rail workers in Haifa on July 16 and two young brothers in Nazareth on July 19, have warheads packed with thousands of metal ball bearings that spray out from the blast. Launched on civilian areas, the ball bearings are intended to inflict maximum harm.

Under international humanitarian law – also known as the laws of war – parties to an armed conflict must not make the civilian population the object of attack, or fire indiscriminately into civilian areas. Nor can they launch attacks that they know will cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects that exceeds the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. Such attacks constitute war crimes. 

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