Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Human Rights Watch slams Hezbollah for targeting civilians

Lebanon slams rights report on Hezbollah war with Israel - AFP

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report due for release on Thursday focuses on the extent "Hezbollah targeted or indiscriminately fired its rockets toward civilians and civilian objects" during the 34-day war, according to a statement by the New York-based group.

But even before the release of the report, Hezbollah and Prime Minister Fuad Siniora were scathing in their criticism, forcing a planned HRW press conference in Beirut to be cancelled.

"Israel during the attacks of July 2006 violated all international conventions," Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's office said in a statement. "It killed nearly 1,200 Lebanese and injured thousands more and 72 hours after UN Resolution 1701 was adopted, it dropped 3.5 million cluster bombs in the south of the country."

Resolution 1701 put a stop to the war that began in July after Hezbollah launched a cross-border attack on Israel and kidnapped two soldiers, whose fate is still unknown.

Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahal said Human Rights Watch should start by criticising Israel.

"We were the victims during this war and people have a right to defend themselves," he told AFP. "We did not target civilians but Israel on the other hand did target the civilian population in Lebanon."

Nadim Houry, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Lebanon, brushed aside the criticism, saying the report was aimed at shedding light on atrocities committed against civilians during the war.

He said HRW planned to release on September 6 another report documenting Israeli attacks that killed civilians in Lebanon.

The 2006 war killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and more than 160 in Israel, of them at least 39 civilians, according to HRW.

"We don't take sides about who is right and who is wrong and our primary focus in this conflict has been to protect civilians," Houry told AFP.

He said it was unfortunate that those criticizing the report had failed to take into account the extensive work done by HRW on violations carried out by Israel during the war.

"We were the first ones to document the use of cluster munitions by Israel," he said. "Our main goal was to have a debate on this issue and it is distressing that we can't have this debate in Beirut."

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