Sunday, September 02, 2007

Human Rights Watch

BEIRUT, Lebanon: Human Rights Watch has come under fire here by Hezbollah and its supporters for a new report accusing the guerrilla group of indiscriminately firing rockets into Israel during last summer's war.
The New York-based rights group had planned to release the sensitive 128-page report, called "Civilians under Assault: Hezbollah's Rocket Attacks on Israel in the 2006 War," during a press conference on Thursday at a Beirut hotel.
But the group said Wednesday that it was forced to release the report a day early and call off the news conference after the hotel canceled it and pro-Hezbollah activists threatened to hold protests.
"Hezbollah is trying to silence criticism of its conduct during the 2006 war," Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement. "But the fairness and accuracy of our reporting will speak for themselves, whether we hold a press conference or not."
Hezbollah denounced the report Wednesday, calling it an aggression against Lebanon. Its satellite TV station Al-Manar began its main Wednesday evening newscast with the words: "They packed their bags and left hurriedly. ... Infiltration under any title to get at the resistance (Hezbollah) will not pass."

Today in Africa & Middle East
Hussein Khalil, political adviser to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, called the report "political debauchery."
"They come to stand on top of the head of the victim, the country destroyed by the Israelis, to talk about how this victim has hurt the Israelis," he said.
Even Hezbollah's opponent, U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, criticized the report, saying Human Rights Watch should have released a report on Israel first. The rights group said it is planning to release a report critical of Israel for its attacks on Lebanon during the war on Sept. 6.
Human Rights Watch did not show "such vigor toward Israeli crimes committed against Lebanese civilians," his press office said in a statement.
In the report, the rights watchdog group accuses Hezbollah of shooting thousands of rockets blindly and at times deliberately at civilian areas in northern Israel during last year's war.
The rights group also said that Hezbollah's justifications for its attacks on Israeli towns as a response to indiscriminate Israeli fire into southern Lebanon and to draw Israel into a ground war had no legal basis under the laws of war.
"Hezbollah's explanations for why it fired rockets at Israel's civilian population utterly fail to justify these unlawful attacks," said Whitson. "Hezbollah, like Israel, must respect the laws of war."
The report examines more than 20 rocket attacks on northern Israel that killed or injured civilians, the group said.
The war erupted in July 2006 after Hezbollah guerrillas staged a cross border, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two others. Israeli warplanes staged raids against Lebanese highways, bridges and other infrastructure before launching a ground offensive into southern Lebanon.
During the war, more than 1,000 Lebanese were killed in 34 days of Israeli airstrikes. Hezbollah launched nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel, and the Israeli death toll was 159, including 120 soldiers.
The war ended on Aug. 14, 2006 with a U.N. cease-fire that provided for deployment of thousands of peacekeepers along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
According to Human Rights Watch, the group found that numerous rockets were fired by Hezbollah in which there was no apparent legitimate military target in the vicinity at the time of the attack, indicating that civilians were deliberately attacked.
But the group said that in some instances Israel located its own fixed and mobile military assets in or near civilian areas of northern Israel, raising questions of whether it complied fully with the norm requiring it to avoid, to the extent feasible, locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Human Rights Watch was an independent organization, and it was no surprise that Hezbollah was threatening to protest the report's release.
"Hezbollah continues to be an organization that engages in terror, that supports the repression of activities in Lebanon that are designed to give everyone an opportunity to have their say, and continues to take actions that are inherently against the interests of the Lebanese people." he said.
Nadim Houry, a Lebanon researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the watchdog had hoped to use Thursday's news conference as a means to engage in a public debate about the report. But the outcry threatened to derail the focus on the report itself, Houry said. The group also took into account the current tense political situation in Lebanon in its decision to cancel the event, he told The Associated Press.