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
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there