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

The New York-based watchdog said in a report issued Thursday that its investigators had determined that indiscrimate Israeli air force and artillery shelling caused most of some 900 civilian deaths in Lebanon during the July-August war. It rejected Israel’s argument that Hezbollah invited the deaths by systematically using non-combatants as “human shields.”

Hezbollah made efforts to operate away from populated areas, though on occasion it endangered civilians by firing rockets from, or storing weapons in, Lebanese towns and villages, Human Rights Watch said. Israel was assailed further in the report for attacks on Hezbollah’s political and charitable wings.

“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 said. “But this doesn’t justify the Israel Defense 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 the rules of war. A Foreign Ministry spokesman noted that during the 34-day conflict, a U.N. official censured Hezbollah for shielding its guerrillas among civilians.

Human Rights Watch has also condemned Hezbollah for some 4,000 wartime rocket launches against northern Israel.

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