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UN Accuses Hezbollah, Israel of Violating Humanitarian Law

Four U.N. human rights experts say both sides in the recent war in Lebanon, Israel and the Hezbollah guerrillas, committed serious human rights violations during the month-long conflict. The investigators are experts in arbitrary executions, health, displaced people, and housing.

The experts presented the results of their fact-finding mission in Israel and Lebanon to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The joint report describes what it calls the terrible human consequences of the conflict and the magnitude of the human rights violations. It notes Hezbollah started the war in mid-July by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers. This, it says, provoked the Israelis to respond.

The report says actions by both sides caused many deaths and injuries, widespread destruction of homes and public infrastructure. Israeli attacks forced a million people in Lebanon to flee their homes, and Hezbollah missiles forced 300,000 civilians in northern Israel to flee to the south.

In presenting the joint report to the Council, the special U.N. investigator into arbitrary executions, Philip Alston pointed to wrongs done by both sides.

"We conclude, as I have stated, that serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel," Alston said. "In many instances, it failed to distinguish between military and civilian objectives; to fully apply the principle of proportionality; and to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian injury and damage. For its part, Hezbollah violated humanitarian law in many instances. It did so in some cases by targeting civilian populations and in others by disregarding the principle of distinction."

Israel's permanent representative to the U.N. in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon, was critical of the report. He says it makes no reference to the responsibility of Lebanon to investigate acts of hostility prepared and perpetrated within its territory.

"We are not aware of any Lebanese investigation into violations of the law of armed conflict by Hezbollah," Levanon said. "Nor has this Council undertaken any investigation of perpetrators of terrorist activities or of the continuous flow of military supplies from neighboring countries to Hezbollah."

Lebanese member of parliament Ghassan Moukheiber calls the report incomplete and biased. He accuses the four experts of very subtly trying to cover-up gross human rights violations by Israel.

"Where is the proper analysis and discussion of the deliberate direct attacks of Israel against the Lebanese civilian population and civilian objects?" Moukheiber asked. "Where is the proper analysis and discussion of the air, sea, and land blockade that had caused humiliation, collective punishment and starvation of civilians, by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival?"

To minimize civilian casualties, the report calls for Israel to provide full details of its use of cluster munitions so that they can be found and destroyed. It also urges Hezbollah to renounce the targeting of civilians in all circumstances.