Amnesty International has accused Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting Israeli civilians with its rockets.
The 4,000 rockets it fired into northern Israel during the war in Lebanon killed 43 civilians, seriously wounded 33 and forced hundreds of thousands of others to live in shelters.
The Amnesty report is the latest review of the 34-day war, for which the winners and losers are still trying to justify their conduct and avoid blame. At least 1,000 Lebanese civilians died and whole villages were pulverized by Israeli bombs.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, fighting for his political life after failing to eliminate Hizbollah, has played down Israeli losses. He bluntly told the Knesset foreign affairs and defence committee: “Half Lebanon is destroyed. Is that a loss?”
Amnesty says Hizbollah fired “some 900 inherently inaccurate Katyusha rockets into urban areas” and packed them with ball bearings lethal at 300 metres. This was out of a total of 3,970 rockets fired. Israel’s inability to suppress the rocket fire was seen as a serious failure.
Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said: “The scale of Hizbollah’s attacks on Israeli cities, towns and villages, the indiscriminate nature of the weapons used, and statements from the leadership confirming their intent to target civilians, make it all too clear that Hizbollah violated the laws of war.”
Hizbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said that shelling northern Israel was in reprisal for the shelling of Lebanese civilians. Israel says 12,000 buildings were damaged by Katyusha fire, but Amnesty says serious damage was much less.
In general terms Israel lost the war, which has left Hizbollah stronger and more confident. In Palestinian towns of the West Bank, Hizbollah DVDs showing Israeli tanks being destroyed are a hot seller.
Hassan Nasrallah defined victory as Hizbollah avoiding defeat. Israel’s prolonged bombing campaign, far from turning Lebanon against Hizbollah, won it support.
Now that peace has returned, Hizbollah may not have quite so easy a time as Lebanese politics returns to its old sectarian divisions. Many Christians and Sunni blame Hizbollah for the war.
Hassan Nasrallah attacked Tony Blair’s visit to Beirut this week, and said that if Mr Blair was invited it was “a national disaster”. In an interview on al-Jazeera television, he said Mr Blair was “an associate in the murdering”.
Israel’s military superiority has not changed. There is no Arab power which can challenge it, and it has had unprecedented support from the US and Britain. Even so, its inability to defeat Hizbollah has reduced its military deterrent. This may tempt it into another round in Lebanon, a war in which it would hope to avoid any further mistakes.
PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘, to be published by Verso in October.