News

HRW to Condi: Please tell Israel to Clear Roads Before Cleansing Lebanese

Dr. Condoleeza Rice
Department of State
2201 C St. NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Rice,

We understand that you plan to visit Israel in the coming days to address current fighting between Israel and Hezbollah and between Israel and Palestinian armed factions in Gaza. You have recently spoken out on the need for all parties to these conflicts to protect civilians and do their utmost to shield them from harm. Nevertheless, civilians – Lebanese, Israelis, and Palestinians – have been the primary victims.

Human Rights Watch shares that concern. We have condemned — as serious violations of
international humanitarian law and probable war crimes – the indiscriminate Hezbollah rocket attacks against civilian-populated areas in Israel, including the major city of Haifa, as well as pointing out that Hezbollah’s use of Israeli soldiers as hostages is a war crime. To that end, we are communicating our concerns to the governments of Syria and Iran, Hezbollah’s principal allies, to urge them to use their influence to persuade Hezbollah to conduct itself in a matter that complies with international humanitarian law.

At the same time, the close and extensive military relationship between the United States and Israel gives the United States a special responsibility to raise civilian protection issues with Israeli leaders with regard to the Israeli military campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza, and to ensure that U.S.-supplied weapons are not used in attacks that violate international humanitarian law. The United States’ commitment to fighting terrorism in the region also strongly argues for raising these concerns with Israel, since that fight is undermined if a close U.S. ally launches attacks that fail to distinguish between combatants and civilians.

In your meetings with Israeli officials, we urge you to raise four related concerns: (1) the high proportion of civilian casualties in Israel’s attacks to date, (2) extensive, continuing attacks on infrastructure essential to the civilian population; (3) the imperative of providing safe passage to civilians seeking to flee the fighting; and (4) safe access for relief convoys into and out of areas affected by the fighting.

In a statement on July 16, you urged the government of Israel to “be mindful of, and restrained in, its operations so that the innocent civilians do not suffer,” and expressed “great concern about damage to civilian infrastructure.” Nevertheless, in Lebanon, after just over one week of fighting, Israeli air and
artillery strikes have killed more than 300 Lebanese, the vast majority of them civilians, and wounded more than 1,000. Since the crisis escalated in Gaza in late June, some 100 Palestinians have been killed, a great many of them civilians rather than armed militants. In both Lebanon and Gaza, Israel’s intentional destruction of key infrastructure—roads, bridges, power-generating facilities, the main airport, and so on – has been extensive and crippling to many aspects of civilian life.

We urge you to inquire about the following incidents in particular:

  • The attack on July 15, resulting in a high number of civilian fatalities, when Israeli missiles struck a convoy of civilians who were fleeing the southern border village of Marwahin. They were fleeing at the explicit urging of Israel, on the only road out of the village. This attack killed 16 persons, including 9 children.
  • The air strike on July 19, an Israeli
    air strike on a car reportedly killed four civilians who were driving from their village of Aitaroun to the city of Tyre.

It is important to know what facts and assumptions led Israel to undertake these attacks, what weight was given to the possibility that the targets were civilians fleeing to safety, and whether an investigation has been launched to prevent a repetition of such loss of civilian life.

  • Israel’s systematic attacks on the southern suburb of Beirut (Dahieh), a very densely populated area that includes offices and residences of Hezbollah leaders. While Hezbollah must never use the presence of civilians to shield its combatants from attack, Israel is not relieved from the obligation to take into account the risk to civilian lives and civilian objects when determining the legality of an attack on premises where Hezbollah leaders or fighters may be present.

We also urge you to inquire about Israel’s repeated attacks on civilian infrastructure.

  • One of Israel’s first infrastructural targets was the Beirut International Airport, a primarily civilian object. The airport can only be a legitimate military objective if, and for the period that, it provides an “effective contribution” to the enemy’s military activities and its destruction provides “a definite military advantage.” As you may recall, this definition of military objective, as codified in Article 52 (2) of Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, is part of customary law and was confirmed as such by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign Against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Even if a target, such as the airport, serves some actual or potential military purpose, the warring party should not launch an attack if the civilian harm outweighs the definite military advantage, or if a similar advantage could be achieved with less civilian
    harm. It is unclear, for instance, why Israel did not target particular flights, or the airport itself, if and when it was used to transport arms or combatants. The civilian cost of targeting the airport, coupled with widespread attacks on roads, has been extremely high, as it has impeded the ability of civilians to escape the fighting or those who remain to receive provisions. Under the circumstances, the attack on the airport appears to violate international humanitarian law.
  • Several times Israel has attacked electric power facilities that supply the civilian population in Lebanon. On July 14 and again on July 20, for example, Israeli warplanes struck a power plant in Zahrani, and on July 15 bombed the power plant in Jiyeh. While such installations might be considered dual-use insofar as they also supply military forces, the harm to civilians is considerable, affecting necessities of life such as refrigeration, sanitation, and hospitals. For
    this reason, such installations are legitimate targets only in extremely narrow circumstances. The United States, as Israel’s primary military supplier, should insist that Israel provide an explanation backed by factual evidence as to why its attacks on Lebanese electrical power facilities was a military necessity that was not overcome by the enormous cost to civilians.

Israeli military attacks in the Gaza Strip, and particularly the escalation of attacks following the June 25 capture by Gaza-based Palestinian militants of an Israeli soldier, have also contributed directly to a significant and growing humanitarian crisis there.

  • In one of the most serious incidents, on June 28 Israel attacked the Gaza Strip’s only electrical generating plant, resulting in the long-term loss to more than a million residents of the densely populated area of approximately half of their supply of electricity. This loss of electrical power has
    had serious consequences on the availability of water for drinking and sanitation, sewage treatment, refrigeration, and other essential services. The government of Israel has thus far failed to provide an explanation as to any military advantage that arguably would outweigh the very high civilian cost.

In addition, we urge you to discuss with Israel its failure to date to allow civilians the opportunity safely to flee from fighting in Southern Lebanon. Israel has warned the 300,000 Lebanese civilians south of the Litani River to evacuate their villages within twenty-four hours. However, its repeated bombardment of the roads in the area, some of which have resulted in the deaths of fleeing civilians, as well as its statement that those traveling in vans or trucks will be “suspected of transporting weapons and rockets” and become “a potential target,” has made many civilians afraid to travel. Israel should be reminded that warning civilians to evacuate an area does not absolve it of the duty to avoid attacks likely to cause indiscriminate or disproportionate loss of life to the civilians who are attempting to flee or those who remain in their villages because they are unable or are afraid to travel.

Finally, Israel must allow relief convoys safe entry into and passage inside Lebanon, and take all feasible precautions to avoid attacking them. Reports from humanitarian organizations and Lebanese government officials indicate that Lebanese border towns are already facing serious shortages of food and medicine, and are in urgent need of supplies.

To date, Israeli air strikes have hit civilian trucks, including those carrying sugar, flour and rice. In one incident on July 17, Israeli missiles struck a convoy of trucks from the United Arab Emirates near the town of Zahleh as it approached Beirut from Syria, damaging or destroying three of the trucks, as well as four passenger vehicles.

Respected international humanitarian organizations have been unable to negotiate with Israeli military authorities the safe passage of their relief convoys to the South. Israel has refused to ensure the safety of even clearly marked civilian aid vehicles, and has insisted that it may target any moving vehicle, particularly trucks, on any roads south of the Litani River. As a result, no one is currently able to deliver relief supplies or medical assistance to the Southern Lebanese villages.

Secretary Rice, your visit provides an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate that it is serious about protecting civilians in this war by addressing potential violations of international humanitarian law by this country’s allies. As a State Party to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the United States undertook “to respect and ensure respect for” those Conventions, including the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian
Persons in Time of War.

We urge you to request that Israel immediately re-examine its military practices to ensure that they strictly comply with the requirements of international humanitarian law, undertake credible independent investigations into violations that may have occurred, and hold accountable any individuals found to be responsible for serious violations. Finally, we urge you to seek public assurances that Israel will not use U.S.-supplied weapons in attacks that violate international humanitarian law standards and to make clear that further provision of and funding for such weapons will be contingent on those assurances.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive director
Middle East and North Africa division


Of the people, By the People and For the People: Hezbollah's Crime

by Charles Levinson

A gentle tap on his right arm from a bearded man who said he was an Islamic charity worker was all it took to warn Samir Asaad to quiet down.

Hezbollah, Asaad had been saying, is providing food and other aid to people trapped in the Lebanese village of Bassuriyeh, the hometown of the Shiite movement’s leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Then came the nudge. Asaad, who is overseeing a shelter for displaced women and children here, quickly shut his mouth while the unassuming volunteer set the record straight for visiting journalists.

“There is no Hezbollah here,” corrected Ridar Damarjeh, who said he was a local shop owner and a volunteer for an Islamic charity. “All the Hezbollah are on the front lines fighting Israel.”

Throughout Hezbollah-controlled south Lebanon, the Shiite guerrilla movement, charity organization and political party, seems to have disappeared leaving scarcely a trace.

But the popular grassroots movement which grew from within these hillside villages remains a ubiquitous, if invisible, presence.

This village of a few thousand people, 15 minutes outside the southern port of Tyre, is where the fiery cleric and wily military tactician now at the helm of Hezbollah came of age.

Hassan Nasrallah, who was Hezbollah’s military commander before he ascended to the top spot, has turned his fighters into a mean guerrilla force over the past two decades capable of dissolving into the population at a moment’s notice, analysts say.

“That is their style. They never show themselves,” says Timur Goksel, a professor at Beirut’s American University and a former United Nations advisor who spent years mediating between Israel and Hezbollah.

“They don’t need a command structure, or a headquarters. They know their missions and work in small groups. They become invisible very quickly.”

It is one of the reasons the Israeli air campaign has exacted such a disproportionate toll on Lebanese civilians. The militants Israel has set out to destroy are woven deep into the social fabric of the largely Shiite south.

In Nasrallah’s hometown, in Hezbollah heartland, there are no gunmen roving the village’s narrow streets or lounging in its leafy gardens. There are no spokesmen to answer the media’s questions or local leaders who admit fealty to the besieged Islamists.

The organization’s fluttering yellow flags and posters of its leaders and fallen “martyrs” are the only obvious reminder that this is Hezbollah’s domain.

Those who remain in south Lebanon’s grassy farming villages despite the relentless bombs, missiles and artillery shells, invariably insist Hezbollah is elsewhere, even as unobtrusive minders follow curious visitors about the village.

“Where is Hezbollah?” asks Salim Watfa, a retired Lebanese soldier, who has refused to let the Israeli air campaign drive him from his native village of Bassuriyeh. “Israelis are saying the resistance is among us but do you see any fighters? There is no resistance here.”

But even as the Israeli onslaught has forced its leadership deep underground, Hezbollah, which won over hundreds of thousands of supporters by pouring huge sums of money into clinics, schools and cheap housing for downtrodden Shiites, appears to be quietly looking after its flock.

In Tebnine, 30 minutes east of Bassuriyeh, somebody — they don’t know who and prefer not to ask — brings water each day to the 1,500 refugees in the village hospital.

“A man risks his life to bring us water from nearby wells each day,” says Mohammad Zeineddin, the Lebanese army officer in charge of the hospital turned refugee shelter.

“Who is he? It’s better we don’t ask. That’s our way in times like this.”

Even as it operates largely below the radar, Hezbollah’s long reach makes its presence felt in other ways too.

One Western journalist spent days scouring the south Lebanese port city of Tyre and the surrounding villages for a sign of the militants who triggered the Israeli assault, but came up empty.

Then, two men showed up at his seafront hotel. He had asked too many questions, they said. He would have to return to Beirut. The journalist in question asked not to be identified fearing Hezbollah retaliation.

“This is their counter intelligence. They have a very effective local networks who report every thing that is going on,” says Goksel, the former UN advisor.

An ice cream vendor in downtown Tyre simply shrugs his shoulders when asked about the shadowy organization. He knows they are around, he says, but no one knows where.

“Even during peaceful times we never see them anywhere,” says Ali Mohammed, 56. “They are a part of the people. We don’t know who is Hezbollah and who is not. It could be you or me.”

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AFP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Agence France Presse.


Human Rights Watch: No Israeli War Crimes in Lebanon

informationclearinghouse.info

What exactly do our politicians mean when the say we support Israel in its action against Lebanon? What is it that they support? Surely not this carnage?

WARNING: Graphic images depicting the reality and horror of Israel’s Invasion and destruction of Lebanon.

* Washington Post: Congress Is Giving Israel Vote of Confidence, 07.19.2006
* Washington Post: Bush Supports Israel’s Attack On Lebanon, 07.19.2006
* NY Times: U.S. Rushes Bombs to Israel, 07.22.2006


Truth "went beyond free speech"

Israel’s ambassador to Norway has complained to press regulators about a cartoon showing Israeli PM Ehud Olmert as a Nazi concentration camp commander. [this one?]

Miryam Shomrat told the BBC the caricature in Oslo’s Dagbladet newspaper went beyond free speech.

Ms Shomrat said it would be open to prosecution in some European countries.

Dagbladet’s editor said the caricature was “within the bounds of freedom of expression,” according to Norway’s NRK state broadcaster.

Ms Shomrat made the official complaint to the Norwegian Press Trade Committee following the publication of the cartoon on 10 July.

In an interview with the BBC’s Europe Today, she said however that her protest could not be compared to the outcry in the Muslim world over the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

Lars Helle, Dagbladet’s acting editor-in-chief, said the newspaper was taking the complaint seriously.

“But I do not fear that Dagbladet will be found guilty,” Mr Helle told the NRK.

The cartoon shows Mr Olmert standing on a balcony in a prison camp.

He is holding a sniper’s rifle and a dead man is seen lying on the ground.

The drawing clearly alluded to the Hollywood film Schindler’s List, in which a sadistic Nazi commander shoots Jewish prisoners for fun, according to Dagbladet.


Another hour, another "accident"

By Steve Farrell and Nicholas Blanford

UN monitors made ten phone calls to military commanders before the air strike that killed four of them

PEACEKEEPERS spent six hours begging Israeli commanders to halt multiple air bombings near a United Nations observation post before a missile killed four unarmed observers there, it emerged last night.

UN officials said that the monitors made ten phone calls to the Israeli army between 1.20pm on Tuesday — when an Israeli aircraft dropped a bomb 300 metres from the patrol base — and about 7.20pm, when the building was destroyed.

The details came to light as Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, condemned what he called an “apparently deliberate targeting” of the well- documented UN position that had stood in Khiam, southern Lebanon, for 50 years.

All the dead were part of the Observer Group — Lebanon, which works with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).

Amid increasing international protest, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, expressed deep sorrow for the deaths of the four unarmed officers from China, Finland, Canada and Austria.

Tzipi Livni, his Foreign Minister, rejected any suggestion of a deliberate attack, describing it as unfortunate. She said: “During a war these kind of accidents can happen.”

She made clear that the bombings would continue. “Israel can continue this operation if needed in order to target Hezbollah.”

Senior UN officials and foreign diplomats said that in the hours before the deaths warning calls came from as far afield as New York. They also said that Israeli forces fired on rescue vehicles sent to recover the bodies. “The bombs were falling on the heads of our guys for six hours,” a Unifil officer told The Times. “We kept telling the Israelis that our men had been lucky so far, but next time there was going to be a tragedy and could they please correct their targeting. We were begging them to stop.”

The Irish Republic filed an official protest with Israel, in which it said that Lieutenant-Colonel John Molloy, its senior Lebanon peacekeeper and a key UN figure liaising with the Israel Defence Forces, had given six specific phone warnings about the Khiam post.

“He warned the Israelis that they were shelling in very close proximity to the post, and his warnings were very specific, explicit, detailed and stark,” said Suzanne Coogan, a spokeswoman for Willie O’Dea, the Irish Defence Minister. “Obviously those warnings went unheeded.”

Jane Lute, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, told the Security Council that the post, which is three miles (5km) from an Israeli artillery position, came under close fire 21 times on Tuesday, suffering 12 hits within 100 metres and four direct hits. Contact was lost with the four peacekeepers inside at 7.17pm Ms Lute said that she and Mark Malloch Brown, the Deputy Secretary-General, called Israel’s mission to the UN in New York “reiterating these protests and calling for an abatement of the shelling”.

She said that Unifil secured safe passage for two armoured personnel carriers, which arrived at 9.30pm and found the shelter collapsed and severe damage to the rest of the position. Despite the agreement, she said, Israel attacked the carriers.

Dermot Ahern, the Irish Foreign Minister, said that Israeli troops fired on the Egyptian UN soldiers sent to dig out the bodies. “(It) raises questions about whether this was an accident,” he said.

Israel’s Ambassador to Beijing was summoned by China’s Foreign Ministry and asked to convey China’s request that Israel investigate the incident. “We are deeply shocked,” said Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The deaths are certain to hamper efforts to put together a multinational force to replace Unifil, which has long had a stormy relationship with Israel.

Unifil has 1,991 troops assisted by 50 military observers, but has been the subject of angry exchanges with Israel about its effectiveness in the past six years as Hezbollah established control over southern Lebanon.

An Israeli official recently told The Times that Unifil had a “co-operative relationship with Hezbollah”. However, UN personnel in Lebanon said that the bombing was merely the latest in a long history of Israeli attacks against its peacekeepers and observers.

In the past three days UN observers have reported frequent attacks close to their positions.

Heavy shelling around Khiam on Tuesday had forced the four observers into the bomb shelters. At about 1.20pm, officials say, a jet dropped a bomb only 300 metres away. The observers contacted the Unifil headquarters.

The observers warned Israel that their aircraft were dropping bombs dangerously close to a UN position. The Israelis said that they would check the situation and make any necessary adjustments, UN officials say. But jets then dropped ten bombs between 100 and 300 metres from the UN position and fired 12 artillery rounds within 150 metres, UN officials said. The fatal strike — using a “precision-guided weapon”, said UN military personnel — hit the post at about 7.20pm.

The Israel Defence Forces last night admitted responsibility for an “unintentional” strike. It said it was investigating.

* Twenty-four Palestinians, including 12 militants, two children and their mother, were killed yesterday by Israeli forces in Gaza.


The Cracks Widen

By Meron Benvenisti (former deputy mayor of Jerusalem)

No one can predict when the reversal will come, when all the experts will begin competing for first place in revealing the failures of the war: mistaken strategy, political dilettantism and shooting from the hip; the weakness disguised as courageous determination; the illusions, arrogance and boasting; the addiction to an impulse of revenge; the cruelty and the lack of moral inhibitions.

But the manipulators and the self-declared heroes should not delude themselves, nor should the naive, or those who are drunk with patriotism or those who consider themselves experts: the moment will arrive more quickly than they imagine and within a short while everyone will be hiding behind the pose of “we told you so” when they know which way the wind is blowing.

That is when all the declarations, the assessments and the excuses – that could be uttered and written only in an atmosphere of lack of critical skepticism that prevails when a “state of war” is declared – will be revealed.

It is only in an atmosphere of this kind that serious people can justify the destruction of a country on the grounds that they “are helping its government in this way” to gain the upper hand over Hezbollah – a kind of variation on the theme of “the raped woman actually enjoyed herself.” It is only in an atmosphere of this kind that a well-bred person can be glad that the lack of American pressure to stop the bombings makes it possible to continue the killing and destruction.

Only reliance on patriotic emotions, which cloud any rational thinking, makes it possible to state without shame – after many days of multi-casualty pounding and the inexplicable destruction of an airport, highway interchanges, power stations and entire neighborhoods – that actually this activity was in vain, since it was known in advance that the bombs could not achieve their objectives and that a massive ground invasion was unavoidable.

Only people who unabashedly exploit primitive urges allow themselves to personalize the war and focus it on the annihilation of their enemy, Hassan Nasrallah. Only those who are convinced the war will bring down a smoke screen over any cynical or hypocritical act can brag that they are assisting in an international humanitarian activity after they themselves brought about the catastrophe.

No one is able to predict the minute when the opposition to the war and the bloodshed turns from an act of betrayal into a legitimate and even correct stance; when a moral condemnation of the war’s evil effects becomes acceptable from a patriotic point of view and when slogans like “uprooting terror,” “a war for our homes,” “an existential struggle” and their like, turn from resonant war-cries into empty rhetoric.

No one can predict this, but experience teaches us that the turnabout from patriotic criticism to rational behavior based on moral norms occurs sooner or later, sometimes within weeks or months and sometimes after a generation. It seems that in the current outbreak of violence, the change will come very quickly; its conduct, objectives and results do not encourage too much enthusiasm and it has not even been granted the title of “war” since those who waged it are not sure if they want to commemorate it among the state’s official wars or if they believe it would perhaps be better to forget it.

They cannot allow themselves to think that all should know their assessments were incorrect, and therefore they will seek a “victory” that will justify all the loss of life and destruction, and the very need for such a victory will merely prolong the suffering and bereavement. The public that supports them will have difficulty demanding soul-searching of them since the tribal solidarity will protect the political and military leaders.

Very soon everything will return to what it was before – apart from those who sacrificed their lives and those who were killed in the shellings and bombings. And the major loser will be the people of Israel who, by an unmeasured reaction to a provocation, established their position as a foreign element in the region, as the neighborhood bully, the object of impotent hatred.


Nazis' homefront getting upset; no turkey shoot this time. Victory to Hezbollah, with G-d's speed.

From: John Nicee john_nicee[at]yahoo.com
To: normangf[at]hotmail.com
Subject: Hey
Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2006 18:58:15 -0700 (PDT)

Lying, biased motherfucker. Bullshit spewing bitch. You fucking liar. Do the world a favor and die. PUBLISH THIS YOU ASSHOLE


Israeli fighters show their stuff on second front

By Lucy Williamson

The Israeli army has been accused of using Palestinian civilians as human shields in an operation in northern Gaza.

According to the Israeli human rights group, B’tselem, six civilians including two minors were subjected to the illegal tactic during an incursion into the town of Beit Hanoun last week.

There are piles of rubble leading up to the hole in Hazem Ali’s house.

It’s a week since Israel came into Beit Hanoun, but the gash in the side of his house is still raw, the soft inside of family life still visible through the lumps of concrete hanging from the wall. A broken bed; a few girders dripping onto it; an elegant wardrobe still standing against the back wall.

It was soon after dawn when the Israeli army bulldozed their way in. Hazem was still sleeping, taking a break from his job as an engineer with the local Palestinian news agency.

‘Blindfolded’

It was his mother who met them in the hallway, Israeli soldiers in a Palestinian home. Behind her, Hazem and his two brothers emerged, one by one.

The three brothers were blindfolded, says Hazem, and their hands tied behind their backs. He shows me the wounds on his wrists from the plastic handcuffs – still sore and infected, but beginning to heal over.

He shows me where the soldiers positioned them: outside the entrance to his flat on the third floor, in the stairwell, facing down the steps.

“I think they put us here because they were expecting suiciders to come into the flat because none of the soldiers were on the stairs – they were all inside the flat. They put us here so we’ll be shot first.”

Inside the flat, the soldiers punched holes in the walls of his living room, and bedroom. Through them, snipers exchanged fire with Palestinian militants. Hazem and his brothers heard it all, but could see nothing.

Hazem says he had little idea at the time exactly how long he was kept there. All he remembers was listening to the heavy gunfire around him, and counting the calls to prayer as they echoed over the area: one at lunchtime, one at tea-time, and one in the evening as the sun set. Twelve hours in all.

He says he expected to die any second. He still can’t understand why, as civilians, they couldn’t be kept in a room somewhere inside the house, where they would have been safer. But they put us in the middle of the clashes, he says. “There was no need for that.”

Court outlawed tactic

Allegations over Israel’s use of human shields have surfaced before. The last time they made headlines was during Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank town of Jenin, four years ago.

The army denied its personnel systematically used civilians as human shields during that operation, but it did issue an order outlawing the practice. As did the Israeli High Court.

But Yekhezel Lain, research director with the Israeli human rights group B’tselem says they are worried those guarantees are now being eroded. He says the cases in Beit Hanoun last week are the first of their kind since the High Court decision.

“This was a very blatant violation of the prohibition of the use of human shields,” he tells me. “It was just soldiers hiding behind the back of civilians who were held with force in their homes.”

B’tselem says it is investigating reports of other, similar incidents in Gaza during the past month. And it is worried that – having withdrawn from Gaza last year – the Israeli army may see the area as distinct from other Palestinian Territories.

The group is concerned about Israel establishing different rules in the case of the Gaza Strip where according to the state, there is no occupation any more – it’s only a state of war, or armed conflict. The human rights group does not believe there is a difference when it comes to the protection of civilians.

The IDF told the BBC the claims in Beit Hanoun were being investigated, and that its soldiers were obliged to act in accordance with moral principles and the rules of engagement. Any misconduct, they said, would be looked into.

As he waits for news of his case in Beit Hanoun, Hazem Ali has got the builders in to fill the holes in his flat, re-glaze his windows and repair as much of the damage as he can.

His wife, meanwhile, is preparing for the birth of their first child. She is half Egyptian, and has been asking Hazem to move out of the Gaza Strip for months now. But he refuses to leave. There’s no running away from Gaza, he says.


Pity the Ubermenschen: this time it's a "real war"

From Stephen Farrell in the Meron Mountains

THE full extent of Hezbollah’s resistance to Israeli ground troops in Lebanon emerged yesterday as returning soldiers and senior commanders admitted they were taken by surprise by the Shia group’s ferocity.

At the same time, a Hezbollah leader has made the startling admission that the group had underestimated Israel’s response to the kidnapping of its two soldiers. “The truth is we didn’t expect this response . . . that (Israel) would exploit this operation for this big war against us,” said Mahmoud Komati, the deputy chief of the Hezbollah politburo.

As palls of black smoke continued to rise from Israeli shelling of villages just inside the border, it became apparent that Israeli troops had not secured Bint Jbeil, the Hezbollah stronghold 4km (2.5 miles) inside Lebanon, which some officials had claimed earlier was taken.

Despite two weeks of relentless Israeli bombardment, Hezbollah managed to fire 111 rockets at northern Israel on Monday, and more than 80 yesterday, killing a 15-year-old Arab Israeli girl and wounding several others. To date, 24 Israeli soldiers have been killed and 75 wounded.

Hanging over the operation is the spectre of 1982, when the Israeli troops invaded Lebanon to crush the threat from Yassir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation — only to become mired in an 18-year occupation that ended in a humiliating withdrawal as losses mounted and domestic support evaporated.

This time, domestic support remains strong, but the first cracks have appeared, with media commentators accusing the army of providing an “insulting level of intelligence” about Hezbollah’s defences.

As they munched watermelon yesterday, sweating Israeli soldiers were visibly shocked by the stiff opposition they had encountered, describing their Hezbollah opponents as a “guerrilla army” with landmines and anti-tank missiles capable of crippling a Merkavah battle tank.

“It was really scary. Most of our armoured personnel carriers have holes,” a paramedic told The Times after recovering three wounded tank soldiers. “It’s a very hard situation. We were in Lebanon before but it wasn’t like this for a long time.” A tank commander said: “It’s a real war.”

In the Galilee town of Safed, Brigadier-General Shuki Shachar, deputy commander of the northern forces, conceded that the foe was not an easy one. “Hezbollah is a fanatical organisation. It is highly motivated to fight. I don’t want to give grades to the enemy, but they are fighting. They are not escaping,” he said. He insisted, however, that Israel was “changing the balance” after a belated recognition that the Shia group was dug in deeper than expected.

“After a few days we realised that Hezbollah prepared itself over the last six years with thousands of rockets, with hundreds of shelters, bunkers, with hundreds of rockets hid in houses of civilians inside south Lebanon,” he said.

His forces had never intended to “conquer every square inch” of Bint Jbeil but had now achieved their objectives of taking the high ground. Wherever the Israel Defence Forces decided to act, the general said, “we have no problem to do so, no restrictions”.

ISRAEL’S TALLY

In 14 days:

4 villages captured by Israel

40,000 shells have been fired

2,750 rockets and mortar fired into Israel

17 civilians killed

24 soldiers killed

381 Lebanese killed

75 soldiers injured


Kofi Rises From the Dead, But Just Barely

From correspondents in Rome

Article from: Agence France-Presse

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan today said he was “shocked” at Israel’s “apparently deliberate targeting” of a UN post in Lebanon, in which up to four UN observers were killed.

Mr Annan described the strike as a “co-ordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked UN post.”

He said it took place “despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that UN positions would be spared Israeli fire.”

“Furthermore, General Alain Pelligrini, the UN Force Commander in south Lebanon, had been in repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular UN position from attack.

“I call on the Government of Israel to conduct a full investigation into this very disturbing incident and demand that any further attack on UN positions and personnel must stop.

“The names and nationalities of those killed are being withheld pending notification of their families. I extend sincere condolences to the families of our fallen peacekeepers.”