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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 September 2007, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Israel accused over Lebanon war
Emergency worker carrying body of a child
Many of those killed in the 2006 conflict were women and children
A human rights group has accused Israel of carrying out indiscriminate air strikes that killed hundreds of civilians during the 2006 Lebanon war.

Human Rights Watch said Israel showed "reckless indifference" to the fate of civilians and queried its argument that Hezbollah used them as human shields.

A spokesman for the Israeli government insisted its forces had acted lawfully.

More than 1,125 Lebanese died during the 34-day conflict, as well as 119 Israeli soldiers and 40 civilians.

Last week, the New-York based group criticised Hezbollah for "indiscriminately and at times deliberately" attacking Israeli civilians.

It also said the Shia movement had failed to take precautions to spare civilians during the conflict when it fired rockets from populated areas and deployed its forces in residential areas.

'Deliberate campaign'

In its 249-page report, Why They Died: Civilian Casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 War, HRW said it had spent five months investigating the deaths of 510 civilians and 51 fighters.

At least 300 of the deaths investigated were of women and children, the group said.

Issuing warnings doesn't make indiscriminate attacks lawful
Kenneth Roth
HRW Executive Director

HRW said a simple movement by a civilian, such as going out to buy bread, was often enough to cause an Israeli air strike, even when there was no evidence of Hezbollah fighters in the vicinity.

Israeli warplanes also targeted many moving vehicles that turned out to be carrying only civilians trying to flee the conflict, it added.

"Hezbollah fighters often didn't carry their weapons in the open or regularly wear military uniforms, which made them a hard target to identify," HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said.

"But this doesn't justify the Israel Defence Force's failure to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and if in doubt to treat a person as a civilian, as the laws of war require."

HRW REPORT

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HRW also said the Israeli military repeatedly failed to take into account the presence of civilians when it targeted Hezbollah, despite numerous media reports and Israel's own experience of past conflicts.

"Israel wrongfully acted as if all civilians had heeded its warnings to evacuate southern Lebanon when it knew they had not, disregarding its continuing legal duty to distinguish between military targets and civilians," Mr Roth said.

"Issuing warnings doesn't make indiscriminate attacks lawful."

The report also accused Israel of undertaking a deliberate campaign against Hezbollah's military wing, the Islamic Resistance, but also its political and social welfare institutions.

'Accepted norms'

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Mark Regev, defended his country's conduct, saying it had acted lawfully.

"We conform with accepted norms in the conduct of military conflict and we conformed with the accepted norms in the conduct of the rules of war," he told Reuters.

Israeli tank fire against Hezbollah positions
We conform with accepted norms in the conduct of military conflict and we conformed with the accepted norms in the conduct of the rules of war
Mark Regev
Israeli Foreign Ministry

Mr Regev also disputed HRW's claim that it could find no evidence - including in videos and photos published by the Israeli military - that Hezbollah fighters had used civilians as "human shields".

"Hezbollah had a clear pattern of behaviour where it embedded itself among the Lebanese civilian population and exploited it as human shields. This is not just the Israeli understanding," he said.

He then cited the UN humanitarian relief co-ordinator, Jan Egeland, who said in July 2006 that the group were unlawfully "shielding themselves close to UN posts and close to the civilian population".

The war in Lebanon started with a border incursion by Hezbollah, in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two others kidnapped, prompting a massive Israeli response.




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