A respected human-rights organization said some of Israel’s indiscriminate attacks in Lebanon constitute war crimes and cannot be excused by blaming Hezbollah.

“Israeli forces have systematically failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians in their military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.

The organization found that “the pattern of attacks in more than 20 cases investigated … indicates that the failures cannot be dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on wrongful Hezbollah practices. In some cases, these attacks constitute war crimes.”

The largest human-rights organization headquartered in the United States, Human Rights Watch was started in 1978 to monitor human-rights compliances in the Soviet bloc countries. Its staff includes lawyers, journalists and academicians.

The 50-page report, “Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon,” examined almost “two dozen cases of Israeli air and artillery attacks on civilian homes and vehicles. Of the 153 dead civilians named in the report, 63 are children. More than 500 people have been killed in Lebanon by Israeli fire since fighting began on July 12, most of them civilians.”
“The pattern of attacks shows the Israeli military’s disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians,” said Kenneth Roth, HRW’s executive director.

He said, “Our research shows that Israel’s claim that Hezbollah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel’s indiscriminate warfare.”

The Israeli government and pro-Israel advocates have excused the killing of noncombatants by blaming Hezbollah for living among the civilian population, using them as human shields.

HRW documented no such claims in the civilian deaths that they studied.

“Hezbollah fighters must not hide behind civilians–that’s an absolute–but the image that Israel has promoted of such shielding as the cause of so high a civilian death toll is wrong,” said Roth.

“In the many cases of civilian deaths examined by Human Rights Watch, the location of Hezbollah troops and arms had nothing to do with the deaths because there was no Hezbollah around.”

HRW said civilians are immune from being attacked under international law, contrary Israel’s argument that civilians associated with Hezbollah are acceptable targets.

HRW said Israel killed and wounded noncombatants who were evacuating their homes after Israeli armed forces had instructed civilians to leave.

“Israeli warnings of imminent attacks do not turn civilians into military targets,” said Roth. “Otherwise, Palestinian militant groups might ‘warn’ Israeli settlers to leave their settlements and then feel justified in attacking those who remained.”

HRW called for an end to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians and asked the United Nations to investigate actions of both Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel.

In a Thursday column in Forward, originally a Yiddish-language daily newspaper and now self-identified as “the voice of the American Jew and the conscience of the community,” Roth said HRW had found “an appalling number of incidents in which civilians and civilian objects were hit with no apparent military justification.”

He wrote, “12 civilians, including nine children, killed in Dweir; at least 16 civilians, including nine children, killed while fleeing Marwahin; nine civilians, including four children, killed in Beflay; as many as 42 civilians, including many children, killed in Srifa; some 60 percent of nine square blocks of southern Beirut, composed mostly of eight- to 10-story apartment buildings, destroyed; and now the tragedy of civilians, many of them children, killed at Qana.”

“The list goes on. With hundreds of Lebanese civilians killed in three weeks of bombing, Israel clearly isn’t doing enough to avoid such loss of life,” said Roth.

As the international community continues to debate what to do about the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Baptists in Lebanon continue to provide humanitarian aid.

BMS World Mission reported that its long-term field personnel, Arthur and Louise Brown were involved in packing and distributing supplies.

A medical team from Hungarian Baptist Aid continued to work in Beirut.

Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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