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Amnesty International on track with call for inquiry

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — An Amnesty International report severely criticizes the Israeli Defense Forces’s behavior during the recent war in Lebanon and calls for an independent commission of inquiry. Such a commission should investigate the actions of not only the IDF but also Hezbollah, as civilians were the main losers in the conflict. According to Amnesty International, during the more than four weeks of war, Lebanon’s infrastructure suffered destruction “on a catastrophic scale.” The Israeli Air Force conducted more than 7,000 air attacks, while the Israeli Navy carried out 2,500 bombardments, in response to Hezbollah rocket fire.

As a result of these attacks and those of the Israeli Army, 1,183 people were killed, one-third of them children. In addition, more than 4,000 people were injured and almost 1 million people were displaced.

Civilians were harmed not only as a result of direct attacks but also as a consequence of the destruction of vital infrastructure. The Lebanese government estimates that 31 “vital points” (airports, ports, water and sewage treatment plants, electrical facilities) have been totally or partially destroyed.

Attacks were also carried out against fuel stations and commercial enterprises. Hospitals, particularly in the south of the country, have sustained shelling damage, and their continued operation has been affected by fuel shortages, road destruction and the continuing blockade. The Lebanese Ministry of Public Health stated that, as of Aug. 12, almost 60 percent of the country’s hospitals had stopped functioning. Two government hospitals — in Bint Jbeil and in Meis al-Jebel — were completely destroyed.

In the southern village of Tebnine, just before the Aug. 14 ceasefire, Israeli forces are said to have fired cluster bombs near the government hospital where hundreds of civilians had sought refuge, including many children, elderly and disabled people. Hospitals are considered “civilian objects” and shouldn’t be attacked unless they are used for military purposes.

Amnesty International’s delegates also observed attacks on supermarkets and warehouses, apparently intended to hasten the departure of residents, a situation denounced by Catholic charity Caritas. To make matters worse, agricultural production has also been severely hit, since produce cannot be transported on roads, many of which were nearly ruined.

According to Fadl Shalak, head of Lebanon’s Council for Development and Reconstruction, the damages amounted to $3.5 billion: $2 billion for buildings and $1.5 billion for infrastructure such as bridges, roads and power plants. Overall, more than 120 bridges were destroyed, including the one connecting Mount Lebanon to the Bekaa Valley, far away from the south of Lebanon, the main theater of hostilities.

Does this evidence indicate a deliberate IDF strategy to destroy roads, power systems, civilian homes and industry, rather than just “collateral damage”? On July 13, Israel’s Defense Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz stated: “Nothing is safe (in Lebanon). It is as simple as that.”

If these actions were deemed to have fallen into the category of war crimes, those responsible would be subject to criminal accountability anywhere in the world through the doctrine of universal jurisdiction.

Criticism of the IDF’s actions is not limited to Amnesty International. Gilad Atzmon, a former Israeli soldier who is now a writer and musician stated, “The IDF is a spoiled, confused and tired army that is specializing solely in terrorizing civilian populations while being engaged in constant tactical withdrawal.”

Given the scale of human rights abuses, Amnesty International has called for the establishment of a comprehensive, independent and impartial inquiry into violations of international humanitarian law by both Hezbollah and Israel in the conflict.

It has asked that the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. Human Rights Council request the U.N. Secretary General to establish a panel of independent experts to carry out this investigation. The creation of that commission could bring some sanity to an otherwise hopeless situation.