Civilian deaths 'should be seen as war crime'

Israel's defence forces were yesterday condemned for systematically and deliberately targeting civilians in Lebanon, acts which the respected New York organisation Human Rights Watch described as "serious violations of international law" or war crimes.

The number of Lebanese killed in the 23-day conflict is now close to 900, the vast majority of them civilians, and a quarter of Lebanon's population is in flight. Although the Israeli government claims it is taking all possible measures to minimise civilian harm, Human Rights Watch said their detailed investigations revealed "a systematic failure by the Israeli Defence Forces to distinguish between combatants and civilians". The 50-page report flatly accuses Israeli forces of launching artillery and air attacks "with limited or dubious military gain but excessive civilian cost".

"In dozens of attacks, Israeli forces struck an area with no apparently military target," the report states.

In a particularly damning section it concludes that "in some cases, the timing and intensity of the attack, the absence of a military target, as well as return strikes against rescuers, suggest that Israeli forces deliberately targeted civilians".

Israel's defence is that it targets Hizbollah and that the militia uses civilians as human shields, thereby putting them at risk. The report could find no evidence to back this up. When investigators went to Qana, Srifa and Tyre, where numerous civilians had been killed, they could see "no evidence" of Hizbollah military activity in the area, no spent ammunition, abandoned weapons or military equipment or dead or wounded fighters.

In its central allegation, Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of violating one of the most fundamental tenets of the laws of war: the duty to carry out attacks only on military targets.

Human Rights Watch also accuses Hizbollah of war crimes in firing rockets packed with ball bearings and without guidance systems towards civilian areas. But the focus of the report is on Israel. Over 50 pages and with forensic detail, it lists attack after attack on civilian homes, often by rockets fired from Apache helicopters. In addition to strikes from aeroplanes, helicopters and traditional artillery, it reveals that Israel has fired cluster munitions against populated areas. On 19 July, for example, survivors of an attack described hundreds of cluster shells dropping on a village.

There is no specific international ban on cluster bombs, but their use in or near civilians is considered an indiscriminate attack, and therefore a war crime, because they cannot be directed in a way that distinguishes between military and civilian targets.

The report examines the air strike on Qana last Saturday, which sparked international outrage and intensified calls for a ceasefire. Human Rights Watch reveals that 28 people died in the attack rather than the 54 originally reported by Lebanese rescue workers. The report details how Israeli warplanes attacked a three-storey building in which 63 members of two extended families were sheltering. At least 22 people are now known to have escaped and 13 remain unaccounted for, presumably buried under the rubble.

Yesterday Israel's own inquiry into the bombing of Qana exonerated the army and found that it would not have bombed a building if it had known civilians were inside. Instead it accused Hizbollah of using human shields.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: International Trade Advisors - Hertfordshire or Essex

£30000 - £35379 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is based in Welwyn ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Controller - Response Centre

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Resource and Recruitment Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Resource and Recruitment Manage...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn