International bodies express concern over Israel-Hezbollah conflict

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

International humanitarian organisations and human rights watchdogs have expressed concerns over the rising civilian casualties and the humanitarian crisis caused by the ongoing conflict in Lebanon and northern Israel. They have also warned the warring groups that their conduct may not comply with international laws governing the safety of civilians in combat areas.

UNCHR statement

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour expressed grave concern over the growing civilian casualties in the conflict in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and called for accountability for any breaches of international law in a statement released on Wednesday.

The statement said that indiscriminate shelling of cities and the targeting of supposed military sites which would possibly result in civilians deaths is unacceptable and unjustifiable. It called for respecting the principle of proportionality in reacting to enemy action.

The statement reminded parties to the conflict that the obligation to protect civilians during hostilities is expressed in international criminal law, and warned that the scale and predictability of the killings in the region may attach personal criminal responsibility of those involved, especially those in positions of command and control.

The High Commissioner also warned of the deteriorating humanitarian situation, especially in southern Lebanon, where large numbers of people are reported to be increasingly deprived of access to basic services and are forcibly displaced. She called for unrestricted and secure passage for all humanitarian assistance.

Red Cross' assessment

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In a press briefing in Geneva, The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) director of operations Pierre Krähenbühl gave the ICRC's assessment of the humanitarian situation engendered by the conflict.

He said that the large number of civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure "raises serious questions" over the warring parties' compliance to the principle of proportionality in combat operations.

In the briefing, he stated the reported death toll as about 230 killed and 600 wounded in Lebanon and 13 civilians killed and over 150 wounded in Israel.

He said that medical assistance and evacuation for those in need is severely limited by the ongoing hostilities and that the safety of the medical mission is "deeply problematic". He pointed out that large numbers of people are fleeing the conflict zones.

He called on Israel's air and sea blockade of Lebanon to allow food and other essential supplies to reach the affected civilian population.

He stated that the ICRC has reminded the parties to the conflict, publicly and in private, of their obligation to distinguish between civilians and military targets, their obligation to respect the principle of proportionality, and to protect the medical aid services, to spare civilians and ensure secure access to medical help for all.

The representations have been made in Israel with the Ministry of foreign affairs and Army command, and in Lebanon with the Prime minister and also to Hezbollah, with whom the ICRC has contact.

Human Rights Watch

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The watchdog group Human Rights Watch warned Hezbollah on attacking civilian targets in Israel and called on Israel to allow relief convoys safe entry into and passage inside Lebanon,

A press release by the group said that Hezbollah rocket attacks on Sunday and Monday were "at best indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas, at worst the deliberate targeting of civilians" and called them serious violations of international humanitarian law and "probable war crimes". The rockets launched against Haifa over the past two days contained hundreds of metal ball bearings that are of limited use against military targets but cause great harm to civilians and civilian property, it said.

A release also said that border towns in Lebanon are already facing serious shortages of food and medicine, and are in urgent need of supplies. It called for safe passage for aid convoys in the wake on an Israeli missile attack on an aid convoy, reported by the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to the UAE RC, the convoy was clearly marked as a relief operation, contained medical supplies and medicines, as well as several ambulances and that at least one person was killed in the attack.

Amnesty International

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Amnesty International (AI) today called on the UN Security Council to meet urgently in order to adopt measures to protect civilians caught up in the deepening Israel-Lebanon conflict. It alleged that G8 member states, during the recently concluded summit, had failed to "put the protection of civilians above politics" in their discussions of the conflict. AI condemned continuing attacks on civilians by both Israel and Hezbollah.

Responses from Israel and Hezbollah

An Israeli official told the BBC "We feel that proportionality should be judged in terms of the threat we face. This is not just an issue of the kidnappings. Hezbollah has a huge arsenal and has fired 1,000 missiles at us. We are acting in self-defence". He also said that Hezbollah often hides in civilian areas and that Israel had dropped fliers and gave other warnings to civilians to leave before an attack.

Also, Vice Premier Shimon Peres questioned the reported casualty count in Lebanon, saying in an interview with CNN, "the numbers of the victims [in Lebanon] are not acceptable. We think that information coming from Lebanon is totally unreliable."

Hezbollah says its capture of Israeli soldiers was to use them in a "bargain" with Israel and that Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel are a retaliation to Israeli strikes against Lebanon and its civilians. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, said "When the Zionists behave like there are no rules and no red lines and no limits to the confrontation, it is our right to behave in the same way."

Sources

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