Leading Israeli rights group accuses army of "war crimes" in Lebanon
JERUSALEM, Jan 9 (AFP) - The actions of the Israeli occupation forces in south Lebanon consitute such a grave violation of human rights that they amount to "war crimes," a leading Israeli human rights group charged Sunday.
"Some of the violations committed by Israel in Lebanon amount to war crimes," B'Tselem spokesman Tomer Feffer told AFP.
He said a report published by the group on Sunday detailed a string of abuses committed by the Israeli army in south Lebanon, where it has occupied a border strip since 1978. These included:
- "The arrest and imprisonment of suspects without trial" at the Khiam detention centre in occupied south Lebanon or in jails in Israel
- The use of torture during interrogations at Khiam, "including electric shocks"
- The banishment of hundreds of people from their homes in the occupied border strip without any form of hearing
- The conscription of residents of south Lebanon, including children as young as 15, into Israel's proxy militia, the South Lebanon Army
- The demolition of suspects' houses
- The use of weapons, including flechette shells, phosphorus and remote controlled bombs, which took an indiscriminate toll on civilian bystanders
Feffer said responsibility for these "crimes" lay squarely with the Jewish state regardless of whether they were actually committed by the Israeli army or its SLA militia ally.
"The fact that some of these violations are committed by the SLA in no way lets Israel off the hook," he said.
"The Israeli army itself acknowledges that it pays the wages of the SLA militiamen, including the jailers of Khiam prison, and that it arms and supervises them."
According to B'Tselem, around 150 Lebanese are currently held at Khiam and another 16 in jails in Israel.
Prisoners at Khiam, which is run by the SLA under Israeli supervision, were denied any visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross or relatives until October 1995.
Access is still denied to journalists and human rights organizations, including the London-based Amnesty International which has repeatedly condemned prison conditions and the use of torture there.
Feffer said B'Tselem acknowledged that Israel's enemies in south Lebanon, particularly the Shiite Muslim guerrilla group Hezbollah which spearheads armed opposition to Israel's 22-year occupation, were also guilty of human rights abuses.
But he said that, as an Israeli organization, B'Tselem had to focus on the actions of the Jewish state.
The rights group has only recently started to investigate alleged abuses in south Lebanon -- until February last year its work was almost exclusively concentrated on the occupied Palestinian territories, where access for researchers is far easier.
In April 1997 the UN Human Rights Commission ruled that Israeli actions in south Lebanon constituted a "serious violation" of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in wartime.
Last September an officer of the UN peacekeeping mission UNIFIL told AFP that the flechette shells used by Israel in Lebanon fell "indirectly into the category of banned weapons" because they are "not aimed at a specific target but scatter over a wide area, inflicting ... damage to civilian facilities."
The shells, each containing between eight and 12,000 five centimetre (two inch) long steel darts, are fired by tank cannon and explode at a height of 500 meters (1600 feet), scattering the darts over an area of about one square kilometre (half a square mile).
Prime Minister Ehud Barak has pledged to pull Israeli troops out of Lebanon by July this year, ideally as part of a wider peace deal including Syria, with which he is currently holding intensive talks in the United States.
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