Israel censured over Lebanese civilian toll

Israel, not Hezbollah, was to blame for most civilian deaths during last year’s Lebanon war, Human Rights Watch said.

In a scathing report issued Thursday, the New York-based watchdog said its investigators had determined that Israeli air force and artillery shelling caused most of some 900 Lebanese civilian deaths during the July-August conflict. It rejected Israel’s argument that Hezbollah invited the heavy toll by operating among non-combatants and thus turning them into “human shields”.

Hezbollah made efforts to avoid populated areas, Human Rights Watch said, although it noted several occasions of guerrillas “endangering” civilians by firing rockets from, or storing weapons in, Lebanese towns and villages. The report further faulted Israel for attack political and charitable arms of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia.

“Hezbollah fighters often didn’t carry their weapons in the open or regularly wear military uniforms, which made them a hard target to identify,” Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said. “But this doesn’t justify the Israel Defence Forces’ failure to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and if in doubt to treat a person as a civilian, as the laws of war require.”

Israel disputed the report’s findings, reiterating that its armed forces abided by rules of war. A Foreign Ministry spokesman noted that during the 34-day conflict a U.N. official censured Hezbollah for shielding among civilians.

Human Rights Watch has also condemned Hezbollah’s wartime launch of 4,000 rockets into Israel.

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