Rights Group Accuses Israel of Lebanon War Crimes
Sunday January 9 10:53 AM ET
By Paul Holmes
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli human rights group accused
Israel on Sunday of rights violations that "constitute war
crimes" in its occupation zone in south Lebanon.
The B'Tselem group report was published as Prime Minister
Ehud Barak presses plans to pull his troops out of the
occupation zone by July, a move that would end an Israeli
presence in Lebanon stretching back more than two decades.
It drew a sharp response from the Israeli defense ministry,
which issued a 10-point statement that said the report was
"full of inaccuracies, half-truths and one-sided claims"
that echoed propaganda from Lebanese groups hostile to Israel.
The 67-page report said Israel "flagrantly and continuously
violates fundamental human rights of Lebanese civilians"
either directly through its own armed forces or indirectly
through its South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia allies.
Among alleged violations it cataloged were:
-- the extra-judicial detention and torture of Lebanese by
the SLA at the militia's notorious Khiam jail
-- the abduction of Lebanese and their imprisonment without
trial in Israel where they are held as "bargaining chips" for
information on the fate of missing Israeli soldiers
-- the expulsion of residents from the zone by the SLA and
its practice of forcible conscription, including of minors
-- indiscriminate firing in violation of the rules of war
and the use by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of weapons
such as phosphorous shells and flechette shells that fire
thousands of darts in circumstances that have killed and
wounded civilians Violations Are "War Crimes"
"These violations, whether committed directly by Israel or
indirectly through the SLA, constitute war crimes under
international humanitarian law," the B'Tselem report said.
It noted that the international war crimes tribunal in The
Hague had held Yugoslavia legally responsible for atrocities
against civilians committed by Serb militia during the war
in Bosnia even in the absence of direct orders.
"Employing the court's criteria to the relations between
Israel and the SLA leads to a similar conclusion," the said.
Israel set up its present 15-km (nine-mile) deep zone in
1985 as a security buffer against potential guerrilla attacks
on its northern communities.
Israeli troops there and the SLA -- which is armed, financed
and trained by Israel -- are engaged in a war of attrition
with the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim Hizbollah (Party of
God) and other guerrilla groups fighting to end the occupation.
The defense ministry restated Israel's official position that
it is not an occupying power in south Lebanon and that Khiam
jail is solely the responsibility of the SLA.
It also argued that Israel was present in south Lebanon to
defend its citizens from "the threat of terror...on the basis
of its right to self-defense defined in international law."
Report Says Both Sides Violate Laws Of War
B'Tselem said Hizbollah, Amal and other militias fighting
against Israel also violated the laws of war and the human
rights of civilians in Israel and South Lebanon.
But it said the prime purpose of its report was to highlight
Israeli abuses, show that the SLA was subordinate to Israel
and that Israel was consequently liable for SLA actions
and demonstrate that Israel was an occupying power in the zone.
Barak hopes peace talks that are now under way with Syria,
the main power broker in Lebanon, will lead to an agreement
that will allow him to withdraw from the zone.
B'Tselem said the long-running domestic debate over the
military presence in Lebanon had focused primarily on the
risk to soldiers' lives and the security of northern residents,
ignoring almost completely the suffering of Lebanese civilians.
"Human rights of Lebanese civilians, even recognition that
Israel maintains a violent and prolonged occupation, are not
part of the collective Israeli consciousness," it said.