John Kifner / The New York Times & ANTARA News – 2006-08-26 00:24:50
Human Rights Group Accuses Israel of War Crimes
John Kifner / The New York Times
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“Deliberate Destruction or “Collateral Damage”? Israeli Attacks on Civilian Infrastructure.
BEIRUT, Lebanon (August 23, 2006) — Amnesty International accused Israel on Wednesday of war crimes in its monthlong battle with Hezbollah, saying its bombing campaign amounted to indiscriminate attacks on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure and population.
“Many of the violations examined in this report are war crimes that give rise to individual criminal responsibility,” Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said in a report on the Israeli campaign. “They include directly attacking civilian objects and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.”
“During more than four weeks of ground and aerial bombardment by the Israeli armed forces, the country’s infrastructure suffered
destruction on a catastrophic scale,” the report said, contending this was “an integral part of the military strategy.”
“Israeli forces pounded buildings into the ground,” the report went on, “reducing entire neighborhoods to rubble and turning villages and towns into ghost towns as their inhabitants fled the bombardments.
“Main roads, bridges and petrol stations were blown to bits. Entire families were killed in airstrikes on their homes or in their vehicles while fleeing the aerial assaults on their villages. Scores lay buried beneath the rubble of their houses for weeks, as the Red Cross and other rescue workers were prevented from accessing the areas by continuing Israeli strikes.”
Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, categorically rejected the claim that Israel had “acted outside international norms or international legality concerning the rules of war.” Unlike Hezbollah, he said, Israel did not target the civilian population, nor did it indiscriminately target Lebanese civilian infrastructure.
He added: “Our job was made very difficult by the fact that Hezbollah adopted a deliberate policy of positioning itself inside civilian areas and breaking the first fundamental distinction under the rules of war, by deliberately endangering civilians. Under the rules of war, you are legally entitled to target infrastructure that your enemy is exploiting for its military campaign.”
Citing a variety of sources, the Amnesty International report said Israel’s air force had carried out more than 7,000 air attacks, while the navy had fired 2,500 shells. The human toll, according to Lebanese government statistics, was estimated at 1,183 deaths, mostly civilians, about a third of them children; 4,054 wounded; and 970,000 people displaced, out of a population of a little under four million.
“Statements from the Israeli military officials seem to confirm that the destruction of the infrastructure was indeed a goal of the military campaign,” the report said. It said that “in village after village the pattern was similar: the streets, especially main streets, were scarred with artillery craters along their length. In some cases, cluster bomb impacts were identified.”
“Houses were singled out for precision-guided missile attacks and were destroyed, totally or partially, as a result,” the report said. “Business premises such as supermarkets or food stores and auto service stations and petrol stations were targeted.
“With the electricity cut off and food and other supplies not coming into the villages, the destruction of supermarkets and petrol stations played a crucial role in forcing local residents to leave.”
The Amnesty International report said the widespread destruction of apartments, houses, electricity and water services, roads, bridges, factories and ports, in addition to several statements by Israeli officials, suggested a policy of punishing the Lebanese government and the civilian population in an effort to get them to turn against Hezbollah.
“The evidence strongly suggests that the extensive destruction of public works, power systems, civilian homes and industry was a deliberate and integral part of the military strategy rather than collateral damage,” the report said.
It also noted a statement from the Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen Dan Halutz, calling Hezbollah a “cancer” that Lebanon must get rid of “because if they don’t, their country will pay a very high price.”
The Amnesty International report came as a number of international aid and human rights agencies used the current lull in fighting to assess the damage.
The United Nations Development Program said the attacks had obliterated most of the progress Lebanon had made in recovering from the devastation of the civil war years. “Fifteen years of work have been wiped out in a month,” Jean Fabre, a spokesman for the organization in Geneva, told reporters.
Another urgent issue, aid groups say, is the number of unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs littering the southern villages.
Tekimiti Gilbert, the operations chief of a United Nations mine removal team, told reporters in Tyre: “Up to now there are at least 170 cluster bomb strikes in south Lebanon. It’s a huge problem. There are obvious dangers with people, children, cars. People are tripping over these things.”
United Nations officials say at least five children have been killed by picking up the bomblets scattered about by the cluster bombs.
Despite the cease-fire, southern Lebanon remained tense on Wednesday. Three Lebanese soldiers were killed trying to defuse a rocket that had not exploded. An Israeli soldier was killed and two others wounded when, according to the Israeli military, they walked over a minefield that Israel had previously buried.
The Israeli military also said it had fired artillery rounds from the disputed territory of Shabaa Farms to the Lebanese village of Shabaa. There were no reports of casualties.
Greg Myre contributed reporting from Jerusalem for this article.
Cluster Bomb Toll Mounts as
Displaced Return to South Lebanon
TYRE, Lebanon (August 25, 2006) — Israeli cluster bombs dropped during a month-long blitz against Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon are taking an increasing toll on civilians trying to return home more than a week after the fighting ended, the UN and rights groups say.
“Every day we hear about casualties — it’s a large number,” said Dalya Farran, media officer for the UN Mine Action coordination Center in southern Lebanon. “We’re in an emergency situation,” she said as reported by AFP.
Several children have been among the eight killed and 38 wounded by cluster bomb explosions since the ceasefire began on August 14, according to Lebanese military figures last updated Tuesday.
On Wednesday three Lebanese bomb disposal experts were also killed by a
cluster bomb in the village of Tebnin, some 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the Israeli border.
Hundreds of Israeli artillery shells containing nearly 200 explosive rounds each were fired into southern Lebanon during the fighting, landing in villages and towns dozens of kilometers beyond the border.
According to the most recent data, 185 cluster bomb strikes have been found so far by assessment teams racing against a tide of displaced people scrambling to return to their stricken villages, Farran said. New ones are being discovered each day as assessment teams push deeper into Lebanon.
At each impact zone, hundreds of tiny bomblets burst from the shells, creating a huge killing field of shrapnel. But the UN estimates that a dangerously high percentage of these failed to explode, leaving their targets strewn with deadly sub-munitions.
“Not all of these, a majority maybe, failed to go off,” Farran said, adding that those intact bomblets are hard to find amid the rubble, and when they are spotted, “people assume that because of their small size that they are harmless”.
The result, according to Human Rights Watch military analyst Marc Garlasco, are “minefields in peoples’ homes”.
Several houses near the southern city of Naqura had “clusterbomb strike” sprayed across them in red spraypaint with arrows pointing to pock-marked walls or towards the ground where unexploded bomblets lay.
“The Israelis were using Vietnam-era stock with an extraordinarily high dud rate. We’ve seen some ordnance that was dated March 1973,” Garlasco said following a week-long tour through the south where “whole villages have been contaminated” by bombs.
“Unexploded ordnance is a huge problem. It’s getting worse, certainly as far as cluster bombs are concerned,” he said “There are kids playing with them and getting hurt, killed.”
In a fact sheet issued earlier in the week, the UN urged parents to be especially vigilant for unexploded ordnance.
Some 100,000 leaflets and 10,000 posters have been distributed by the Lebanese army at checkpoints and radio and television spots have aired warning the people against the dangers of live bombs in a massive public education campaign.
“It’s important to get the message out early,” said an official with the British-based Mine Action Group, which has been tasked by the UN with clearing the most recent battlezones of cluster bombs. Nonetheless, the UN warned, “civilian casualties are mounting”.
Farran said ordnance teams were dealing with “immediate threats” — those
unexploded bombs found in places most commonly used by people.
“It’s mostly cluster bombs in houses, in gardens or fields, on roofs of hospitals or in main roads,” she said, but added that their efforts have strained under a lack of manpower and material.
“It’s not total clearance. We don’t have the time or the assets,” she said. “More help should be coming.”
COPYRIGHT © 2006 ANTARA
Inquiry Opened Into Israeli Use of US Bombs
David S. Cloud / New York Times
WASHINGTON (August 24, 2006) — The State Department is investigating whether Israel’s use of American-made cluster bombs in southern Lebanon violated secret agreements with the United States that restrict when it can employ such weapons, two officials said.
The investigation by the department’s Office of Defense Trade Controls began this week, after reports that three types of American cluster munitions, anti-personnel weapons that spray bomblets over a wide area, have been found in many areas of southern Lebanon and were responsible for civilian casualties.
Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, said, “We have heard the allegations that these munitions were used, and we are seeking more information.” He declined to comment further.
Several current and former officials said that they doubted the investigation would lead to sanctions against Israel but that the decision to proceed with it might be intended to help the Bush administration ease criticism from Arab governments and commentators over its support of Israel’s military operations. The investigation has not been publicly announced; the State Department confirmed it in response to questions.
In addition to investigating use of the weapons in southern Lebanon, the State Department has held up a shipment of M-26 artillery rockets, a cluster weapon, that Israel sought during the conflict, the officials said.
The inquiry is likely to focus on whether Israel properly informed the United States about its use of the weapons and whether targets were strictly military. So far, the State Department is relying on reports from United Nations personnel and nongovernmental organizations in southern Lebanon, the officials said.
David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, said, “We have not been informed about any such inquiry, and when we are we would be happy to respond.”
Officials were granted anonymity to discuss the investigation because it involves sensitive diplomatic issues and agreements that have been kept secret for years.
The agreements that govern Israel’s use of American cluster munitions go back to the 1970’s, when the first sales of the weapons occurred, but the details of them have never been publicly confirmed.
The first one was signed in 1976 and later reaffirmed in 1978 after an Israeli incursion into Lebanon. News accounts over the years have said that they require that the munitions be used only against organized Arab armies and clearly defined military targets under conditions similar to the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973.
A Congressional investigation after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon found that Israel had used the weapons against civilian areas in violation of the agreements. In response, the Reagan administration imposed a six-year ban on further sales of cluster weapons to Israel.
Israeli officials acknowledged soon after their offensive began last month that they were using cluster munitions against rocket sites and other military targets. While Hezbollah positions were frequently hidden in civilian areas, Israeli officials said their intention was to use cluster bombs in open terrain.
Bush administration officials warned Israel to avoid civilian casualties, but they have lodged no public protests against its use of cluster weapons. American officials say it has not been not clear whether the weapons, which are also employed by the United States military, were being used against civilian areas and had been supplied by the United States. Israel also makes its own types of cluster weapons.
But a report released Wednesday by the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Center, which has personnel in Lebanon searching for unexploded ordnance, said it had found unexploded bomblets, including hundreds of American types, in 249 locations south of the Litani River.
The report said American munitions found included 559 M-42’s, an anti-personnel bomblet used in 105-millimeter artillery shells; 663 M-77’s, a submunition found in M-26 rockets; and 5 BLU-63’s, a bomblet found in the CBU-26 cluster bomb. Also found were 608 M-85’s, an Israeli-made submunition.
The unexploded submunitions being found in Lebanon are probably only a fraction of the total number dropped. Cluster munitions can contain dozens or even hundreds of submunitions designed to explode as they scatter around a wide area. They are very effective against rocket-launcher units or ground troops.
The Lebanese government has reported that the conflict killed 1,183 people and wounded 4,054, most of them civilians. The United Nations reported this week that the number of civilian casualties in Lebanon from cluster munitions, land mines and unexploded bombs stood at 30 injured and eight killed.
Dozen of Israelis were killed and hundreds wounded in attacks by Hezbollah rockets, some of which were loaded with ball bearings to maximize their lethality.
Officials say it is unlikely that Israel will be found to have violated a separate agreement, the Arms Export Control Act, which requires foreign governments that receive American weapons to use them for legitimate self-defense.
Proving that Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah did not constitute self-defense would be difficult, especially in view of President Bush’s publicly announced support for Israel’s action after Hezbollah fighters attacked across the border, the officials said.
Even if Israel is found to have violated the classified agreement covering cluster bombs, it is not clear what actions the United States might take.
In 1982, delivery of cluster-bomb shells to Israel was suspended a month after Israel invaded Lebanon after the Reagan administration determined that Israel “may” have used them against civilian areas.
But the decision to impose what amounted to a indefinite moratorium was made under pressure from Congress, which conducted a long investigation of the issue. Israel and the United States reaffirmed restrictions on the use of cluster munitions in 1988, and the Reagan administration lifted the moratorium.
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