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Human Rights Group Accuses Hezbollah of Indimidation


The New York-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch has issued a report accusing Lebanon's Hezbollah militia of indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians during last year's conflict with Israel. Human Rights Watch was to have released the report with a news conference Thursday in Beirut, but cancelled the event because of Hezbollah threats. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Human Rights Watch officials say they decided to release the report on their Web site, instead of the Beirut news conference, after what they say were tendentious reports against the organization by Hezbollah-controlled media, and threats to block the news event with demonstrators.

The 128-page document is one of several reports and news releases Human Rights Watch has done on the 2006 war, some of them sharply critical of Israeli actions including the use of cluster munitions.

It says Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets, some of them loaded with anti-personnel steel pellets, indiscriminately and at times deliberately into civilian areas of northern Israel, killing at least 39 civilians and seriously wounding more than 100 others.

Human Rights Watch says Hezbollah's stated reasons for the rocketing, responding to indiscriminate Israeli weapons fire and trying to draw Israel into a ground war, utterly fail to justify the action and have no basis under international law.

Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East, Joe Stork, told VOA Hezbollah may well have tried to target military sites in northern Israel. But he said because of the nature of weapons used, unguided rockets with fragmentation warheads, it constituted indiscriminate firing.

"Hezbollah routinely and systematically launched rocket attacks against civilian areas in northern Israel between July 12th and August 14 of 2006," he said. "These are civilian areas. Because they are civilian areas and because the rockets, the weapons, that Hezbollah was using, are not very accurate, they simply can't be aimed with any kind of precision, they constitute, if not targeting civilians, then at the very least indiscriminate attacks causing harm to civilians."

Human Rights Watch said in preparing the report, it sought meetings with Hezbollah officials and solicited written information from them, but there was no substantive response.

Stork said the Beirut event was cancelled in the face of reports carried by Hezbollah media accusing Human Rights Watch of conspiring with rival Lebanese factions and the U.S. government, and calling on Hezbollah supporters to block the news conference and the reports' release:

"What happened yesterday was that al-Manar, which is the Web site and television station of Hezbollah, broadcast a very tendentious long piece alleging that we were working hand-in-hand with unnamed Lebanese actors, and that we are working on behalf of the Bush administration, and so on and so forth. So really a pack of lies, to not put too fine a point on it," he added.

Human Rights Watch said in a press statement Hezbollah is trying to silence criticism of its conduct during the war, but that the fairness and accuracy of its reporting will speak for itself. The organization is due to release a report critical of Israel's attacks in Lebanon on September 6 in Jerusalem.

In comments here, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey dismissed the notion of U.S. government cooperation with Human Rights Watch on the report, saying it is a private group with its own agenda, as evidenced by its frequent criticism of the United States on human rights issues.

Casey also said intimidation tactics are nothing new for Hezbollah, which he said engages in terrorism and repression of opponents and free speech in Lebanon.

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