Report Accuses Hezbollah of Indiscriminate Attacks on Civilians in '06 War

By Alia Ibrahim
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, August 30, 2007

BEIRUT, Aug. 29 -- An international human rights group has concluded that Lebanon's Hezbollah movement indiscriminately attacked civilians during its conflict with Israel last summer, a finding that prompted denunciations from both the Lebanese government and Hezbollah.

In that climate, New York-based Human Rights Watch canceled a news conference it had planned to hold Thursday in Beirut to release the report, and its officials said they were being unfairly silenced.

The 126-page report found that "as a party of an armed conflict governed by international humanitarian law," Hezbollah had "violated fundamental prohibitions against deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians."

The month-long war began after Hezbollah gunmen crossed Israel's northern border and seized two soldiers, prompting Israeli forces to enter southern Lebanon and bomb portions of the country in an attempt to win the soldiers' release and crush the movement's military capabilities. Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets into Israel during the hostilities.

Israel had no official reaction Wednesday to the Human Rights Watch report. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israeli officials "have no doubt whatsoever that in the conflict last year Hezbollah adopted a deliberate strategy of targeting civilian population centers in order to kill as many noncombatants as possible and create terror."

The office of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, in a statement Wednesday, rejected as "unacceptable and legally unfounded" a recommendation by Human Rights Watch that the government "investigate and prosecute Hezbollah members alleged to have individual or command responsibility for the commission of war crimes." Hezbollah leads a campaign to unseat Siniora's government.

The statement faulted Human Rights Watch for not showing "similar enthusiasm toward crimes committed by Israel against Lebanese civilians." Lebanese officials say about 1,200 civilians died in Israel's bombing campaign, along with hundreds of Hezbollah fighters and a few members of Lebanon's armed forces. Israel reported that 119 of its soldiers and 41 civilians died in the war.

Nadim Houry, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Beirut, said previous reports by the organization reflected extensive investigation of Israel. The reports accused the country of indiscriminate attacks on civilians and recommended that Israelis responsible for war crimes be put on trial, he said.

Complaining about an "overwhelming climate of intimidation," Houry said the news conference had been called off mainly because of a last-minute cancellation by the hotel that was supposed to host it. "We also became convinced that in the midst of this hysteria, the debate we had in mind could not take place," he said.

Mohamad Bahaa Chatah, a senior adviser to Siniora, called for greater "proportionality" in the work of Human Rights Watch, saying, "We're not asking them to be partisans but to admit that there's been asymmetrical damage."

Meanwhile, Hussein Khalil, a Hezbollah political adviser, called the report "an attempt to equate between the persecutor and the victim."

Omar Nachabeh, a journalist and criminal justice expert, said that the report was fair and that "ignorance" on the part of both the government and Hezbollah had caused the news conference to be canceled. "The remarks that both sides had were political and were issued before the report was even released," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company