Hizballah Accused of War Crimes - Three Weeks After Israel Was

July 7, 2008 - 8:17 PM

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Amnesty International charged today that Hizballah rocket attacks on northern Israel amounted to war crimes. The accusation came three weeks after the human rights group blasted Israel for allegedly carrying out war crimes during the 34-day conflict.

"Hizballah's rocket attacks on northern Israel amounted to deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects as well as indiscriminate attacks, both war crimes under international law," stated a 15-page report issued by the human rights group.

The report said the rocket attacks "violated other rules of international humanitarian law, including the prohibition on reprisal attacks on the civilian population."

Today's Amnesty report noted that 43 Jewish and Arab Israelis were killed during the daily rocket barrages, four from heart attacks. Seven of the victims were children. Another 33 Israelis were seriously wounded, most with permanent impairments.

Israeli officials add that more 1,000 civilians needed hospital treatment for rocket-caused injuries and shock.

The head of Amnesty International's Israel branch, Amnon Yarden, hand-delivered a copy of the report to Haifa mayor Yonah Yahav Thursday afternoon. Haifa suffered the worst one-time civilian death toll of the war on July 16 when a rocket crashed into a railroad repair depot, instantly killing eight workers, all men, and injuring dozens of others. Most of the slaughtered men, who ranged in age from 24 to 43, left behind wives and children.

Amnesty workers at the Tel Aviv office, who helped compile the report, were upset that the war crimes charges against Israel were published three weeks ago - well before today's document was released. The Amnesty workers told Israeli media outlets in late August that Amnesty's Israel branch had asked the group's main office in London to issue the two reports simultaneously, in order to avoid charges of bias against the Jewish state.

Israeli officials have long complained that the renowned human rights group is one-sided in its regional assessments, which never lean in Israel's favor.

Israeli government officials and international Jewish groups had heavily criticized the London-based group for failing to note even once in its earlier report the massive Hizballah rocket barrage that left scores of Israeli civilians killed or severely injured, and numerous homes, businesses and forests badly damaged.

Instead, the August 23 report charged the Israeli military with "deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure," which is considered a crime under the Geneva War Conventions.

Amnesty maintained that evidence of widespread IDF destruction in civilian areas confirmed the "deliberate targeting" charge. The report added that in addition to such damage, "several statements by Israeli officials suggested a policy of punishing both the Lebanese government and the civilian population in an effort to get them to turn against Hizballah."

Analysts said the statements mentioned in the Amnesty report probably were made by Justice Minister Haim Ramon (who has since resigned over sexual misconduct charges); and Orthodox Shas party leader Eli Yishai, neither of whom was authorized to speak for the entire government. Both had publicly advocated "taking down" south Lebanese Shiite villages that served as Hizballah rocket shields.

Senior Israeli government officials strongly denied that the IDF had been ordered to deliberately target civilians. They also noted that Hizballah -- supported by a country calling for Israel's total annihilation -- was not operating out of clearly marked battlefields or military bases, but mainly from Lebanese civilian areas.

They added that air force strikes on Lebanese roads, bridges and runways of Beirut's international airport were not designed to harm uninvolved Lebanese civilians, but to halt ongoing Syrian and Iranian attempts to rearm their rogue surrogate militia.

Israeli leaders were especially angry that the initial Amnesty report focused on the IDF's reported "7,000 air force strikes in Lebanon, along with 2,500 naval and ground shellings" without even mentioning the 4,000-plus Hizballah rockets that landed in all sections of northern Israel. Nearly a thousand of those rockets landed inside well-established cities and towns such as Haifa and Tiberius.

The August 23 report particularly blasted Israel for allegedly dropping American-made cluster bombs during the conflict, which spray pellets around the area of impact.

However, Israeli officials countered that such bombings were intended to kill Shiite militiamen known to be operating in the area, not civilians, whereas the Hizballah rockets -- deliberately fired at civilian centers -- were mostly packed with thousands of metal ball bearings that were clearly designed to kill and maim as many people as possible. The Israelis also noted that Hizballah rockets struck hospitals, schools and retirement centers, and killed or injured many animals.

The initial Amnesty report was hardly considered academic by Israeli authorities or legal experts. They feared that it might be used as a basis for the filing of war crime charges in Europe against senior IDF military commanders.

That concern prompted the Foreign Ministry's chief legal advisor to prepare an unpublished report earlier this month cautioning such leaders that anything they say about the war could some day be used as evidence against them in an international court of law.

A number of Israeli army generals deferred trips to Europe earlier this decade amid concerns that left-wing human rights groups might attempt to file war crimes charges against them involving military actions taken to quell Palestinian violence.

Threats by several European leaders to put then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on trial for allegedly committing war crimes during the first Lebanon war only added to the anxiety felt by the IDF commanders.

Israeli government minister Yitzhak Herzog, whose Belfast-born father served as Israel's sixth president, told reporters on September 5 that the issue of potential war crime charges stemming from the recent conflict had prompted him to speak with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz during the fighting.

He said Mazuz " stated that the army was taking all of this under consideration, and was acting according to the rules" -- an apparent reference to the Geneva Conventions.

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