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GLW: Amnest - 'Israel Committed War Crimes’

Amnesty: 'Israel Committed War Crimes’

By Doug Lorimer
Green Left Weekly

On August 23, human rights group Amnesty International accused Israel of committing war crimes. Amnesty said that the pattern and scope of Israel’s bombing campaign in Lebanon, statements by Israeli officials and the scale of damage inflicted on civilian infrastructure “indicated that such destruction was deliberate and part of a military strategy, rather than 'collateral damage’”.

A report by the group, Deliberate destruction or 'collateral damage’?, argued: “Many of the violations ... are war crimes that give rise to individual criminal responsibility. They include directly attacking civilian objects and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks. People against whom there is prima facie evidence of responsibility for the commission of these crimes are subject to criminal accountability anywhere in the world through the exercise of universal jurisdiction.”

Despite this and similar indictments of its war on Lebanon, and despite agreeing to a UN-brokered “ceasefire” on August 14, Israel has made it clear that it will continue to carry out military attacks on Lebanon following the failure of its 34-day mass bombing campaign to destroy Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, a Shiite-based Lebanese party with 14 MPs and two cabinet ministers, led the armed resistance to Israel’s 1982-2000 occupation of southern Lebanon and mounted a guerrilla defence against Israel’s latest aggression that stunned the Israeli establishment with its effectiveness.

The August 20 New York Times reported that an unnamed high-ranking Israeli general said that Israel would attempt to kill Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah. “There’s only one solution for him. This man must die”, the general said.

The general also said that Israel would launch attacks on any vehicles in Lebanon that the Israeli military “believes” are being used to smuggle arms from Syria to Hezbollah. Most of the 15,000 Israeli air attacks on Lebanon carried out between July 12 and August 14 — including those against roads, bridges, Red Cross ambulances and UN humanitarian relief convoys — were justified by Israeli officials as being aimed at stopping Hezbollah “rearming” its soldiers in southern Lebanon.

Early on August 20, Israeli commandos attempted to carry out a raid into the village of Boudai, in north-east Lebanon. Both the Lebanese government and UN officials condemned the Israeli raid as a violation of the August 11 UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for a “full cessation of hostilities, based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations”.

Israeli officials, however, argued that the commando raid did not violate the UN resolution, claiming it was a “defensive operation” to stop Hezbollah “rearming” its fighters with weapons smuggled into Lebanon from Syria. The UN resolution calls on the Lebanese government to ensure that no weapons are brought into the country without its authorisation.

However, Israeli officials offered no evidence that any weapons were being smuggled through Boudai. Subsequent Israeli press reports indicated that the real purpose of the night-time commando raid was to capture a top Hezbollah leader, Sheik Mohammed Yazbeck, in order to exchange him for the two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12 by Hezbollah guerrillas along the “Blue Line”, the UN-recognised border.

This small operation was the nominal pretext for the month-long war Israel waged on Lebanon — a war that cost the lives of at least 1200 Lebanese citizens, a third of them children under 12, and an estimated US$15 billion in destroyed civilian infrastructure, according to the UN Development Program spokesperson Jean Fabre. A quarter of the country’s road bridges, 15,500 apartment units and 34,000 houses and business premises were destroyed.

The August 20 attack by Israeli commandos, who were disguised as Lebanese army soldiers, turned into a debacle when their cover was blown. Although only 10 Hezbollah soldiers were initially involved in the gun battle with the Israeli commando squad, 300 Boudai villagers mobilised, picked up their Kalashnikov assault rifles and joined the fight.

The August 20 Los Angeles Times reported: “The Israelis in the SUVs apparently flubbed a traditional Arabic greeting, fighters said. They were waved on to the next checkpoint, where Hezbollah fighters ambushed them, sending them fleeing into tobacco fields ... Apache helicopters fired from above, as larger helicopters evacuated the men and their vehicles, the fighters said. The confrontation lasted about an hour ...

“The Israeli military acknowledged that one of its officers was killed and two others were wounded, one seriously. The military said that Israeli jets had to provide cover in order to extricate the soldiers and that at one point the planes dropped bombs to knock out a bridge to prevent more Hezbollah fighters from joining the battle.”

On August 21, Israeli “defence” minister Amir Peretz announced a military inquiry would be conducted into the “alleged failures” of Israel’s month-long assault on Lebanon so as “to prepare for the next round”. He also announced that Israeli troops would “continue to prevent the Lebanese army from deploying within two kilometres of the border, before the deployment of the multinational force”.

A “multinational force” — the 1990-member UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) — is already deployed in observation posts along the Lebanese side of the Blue Line. The UN “ceasefire” resolution, adopted by the Security Council on August 11, calls for all Israeli troops to be pulled back to the Israeli side of the Blue Line as the Lebanese side is occupied by Lebanese army soldiers and an expanded UNIFIL force.

UNIFIL was set up in March 1978 under Security Council Resolution 425 to supervise a UN-ordered “immediate withdrawal” of Israeli troops from south Lebanon after Israel’s March 1978 invasion. Resolution 1701 calls for up to 13,000 extra troops to be added to UNIFIL.

France, which currently commands UNIFIL, had given the impression before the adoption of Resolution 1701 that it would commit an extra 5000 soldiers to its existing 200-soldier UNIFIL contingent.

However on August 17, French defence minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Paris would not commit more than 200 extra troops to UNIFIL, all engineers, because the new mandate that UNIFIL will operate under is “fuzzy”. French military officials later told reporters that they did not want their troops put in a situation where they would be required to engage in armed confrontations with Hezbollah’s soldiers.

However, on August 25 France announced it would add an extra 1600 troops to its UNIFIL contingent.

In an article in the August 22 Toronto Star, Timur Goksel, a former Turkish army officer who was the spokesperson for UNIFIL for 24 years, explained that the ambiguities of UNIFIL’s new mandate were deliberately made to suit Israel.

Resolution 1701, Goksel wrote, “reflects the political agenda of the US and Israel, and thus fails to consider the realities of Israel's military disappointment, the internal Lebanese political dynamic which prevents the army from confronting Hezbollah, and the inherent limitations of UN peacekeeping, which requires a clear and achievable mandate without resorting to use of force”.

Goksel continued: “Despite its clear military superiority, and the unfettered support it received from the US, Israel failed to achieve any of its objectives during its brutal war on Lebanon, namely freeing its captured soldiers, neutralizing Hezbollah, and reasserting its deterrent power while clipping the wings of Syria and Iran.

“Indeed, Hezbollah has emerged politically stronger within Lebanon and the Arab region for resisting Israel and restoring pride to Arabs so used to military defeat and political submission; while Syria and Iran have also gained from Hezbollah's success.

“The US drafted UN Resolution 1701 with the intention of accomplishing politically what Israel could not achieve militarily. An earlier draft of this resolution clearly revealed America's hand when it specifically called for an international force to be deployed in southern Lebanon under the terms of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorizes the use of force to implement its mandate.

“In blunt terms, this would have meant that such an international presence would have been required to disarm Hezbollah, by force if necessary.

“There can be little doubt that Hezbollah's success on the battlefield gave Lebanon enough leverage to ensure the removal of this reference to Chapter 7 in the final text...

“The final wording of Resolution 1701 thus implies that an expanded UNIFIL would operate under the more acceptable terms of Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, which is concerned with the 'pacific settlement of disputes’ and thus lacks the mandate to use force.

“Still, there remains genuine concern by UN member states that the US has deliberately inserted text into Resolution 1701 that mischievously recalls Chapter 7 language and logic and implies its terms. Indeed, recent statements by senior UN, US and Israeli officials seem to be reinforcing the notion that there are Chapter 7 elements in this resolution, thus contradicting its spirit.”

These elements, Goksel argued, “may put UNIFIL in the position of having to confront Hezbollah or other armed groups in southern Lebanon, a potentially dangerous situation that would likely result in UNIFIL being seen as the enemy and therefore threaten its neutrality and effectiveness”.

Following France’s August 17 announcement, only Italy made a definite commitment to add more troops to UNIFIL (up to 3000) — provided Italy had command of UNIFIL, other European Union countries commit significant numbers of troops and UNIFIL is not required to search for Hezbollah’s weapons.

On August 21, Italian foreign minister Massimo D'Alema added a new condition. “We cannot send our troops to Lebanon if the Tsahal [Israeli army] keeps shooting”, he told La Repubblica.

Associated Press reported on August 23 that Israeli troops stationed in the Shebaa Farms area, which Israel has occupied since 1967, fired artillery shells near Lebanese army positions “intermittently” for “three hours”.

While much of the world’s attention has focused on Israel’s war against Lebanon, the brutal assault against the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip has relentlessly continued, bringing Gaza to the brink of a humanitarian disaster. The Palestine News Network reported on August 23 that the Gaza-based Al Dameer Foundation for Human Rights had issued a statement warning of a “humanitarian catastrophe as Israeli occupation forces practice collective punishment against the citizens of the Gaza Strip”.

From Green Left Weekly , August 30, 2006.
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