September 1997 Vol. 9, No. 8(E)



The Civilian Victims






Threats to Attack Lebanon's Economy and Infrastructure 14

Terrorizing and Targeting the Civilian Population 16

Warnings to Evacuate 17

Threats Directed at Civilians 18

Characterizing Civilians as Military Targets 19

Designating the Southbound Coastal Highway a Military Target 19

A Typology of Attacks in South Lebanon 21

Blaming the Civilian Victims 22

Mansouri 22

Upper Nabatiyeh 24

Violations of International Humanitarian Law 26

Targeting Community-Based Medical Services 27

Hospital of the South in Nabatiyeh 27

Ambulance in Aabba 28

Violations of International Humanitarian Law 29

Targeting the Vehicles of U.N. Peacekeepers 29

Between Zahrani and the Coastal Highway 30

Wadi Gilo 30

Violations of International Humanitarian Law 31

Shelling near and at U.N. Bases Sheltering Civilians 31

Majdal Zoun 32

Qana 33

Violations of International Humanitarian Law 39


Indiscriminate Attacks in Northern Israel 41

Terrorizing and Targeting the Civilian Population 43

Civilian Casualties and Damage 44

Violations of International Humanitarian Law 46

Military Activities in South Lebanon 46

Violations of International Humanitarian Law 48


This report is based on information collected in Lebanon and Israel by Human Rights Watch between May 1996 and August 1996, and additional research by Virginia N. Sherry, associate director of Human Rights Watch/Middle East. Yifat Susskind, a consultant to Human Rights Watch/Middle East, gathered information in Israel in June 1996. Sheila Carapico, a consultant to Human Rights Watch/Middle East, carried out fieldwork in Lebanon in May 1996. Ms. Sherry and Joel Campagna, a consultant to Human Rights Watch/Middle East, conducted a second mission in Lebanon in July and August 1996, investigating Operation Grapes of Wrath as well as human rights violations against Lebanese citizens and Palestinian refugees by Lebanese and Syrian authorities

Ms. Sherry is the author of this report, with the exception of the section entitled "Indiscriminate Attacks in Northern Israel," which was written by Ms. Susskind and edited by Ms. Sherry. The sections of the report entitled "Upper Nabatiyeh" and "Military Activities in South Lebanon" include material written by Ms. Carapico.

The report was edited by Eric Goldstein, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch/Middle East, and Michael McClintock, deputy program director of Human Rights Watch.

* * *

Information included in the section of this report entitled "A Typology of Attacks in South Lebanon" first appeared in the Arabic-language daily newspaper al-Hayat (London) in a two-part article written by Ms. Sherry that was published on April 16 and April 17, 1997.


In this report, Human Rights Watch examines the activities of Israeli military forces and Lebanese guerrillas during the escalation of military activities that raged in Lebanon and parts of northern Israel from April 11 to 27, 1996 -- code-named "Operation Grapes of Wrath" by Israel. Israeli pilots carried out 600 air raids with fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, and artillery units fired some 25,000 shells into Lebanese territory. Some 154 civilians were killed in Lebanon, and another 351 injured. The guerrillas fired 639 Katyusha rockets into Israel. There were no Israeli civilian deaths, although three Israeli women sustained serious injuries.

In any international armed conflict, the conduct of all sides is governed by international humanitarian law (the laws of war), which is codified in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (Protocol I).1 Protocol I, which supplements the Geneva Conventions, contains detailed rules which implement the customary international law principles that a distinction should be made between combatants and civilians, and that civilians and civilian objects may not be targeted for attack. The rules of the protocol are designed to provide more effective protection to the civilian population against the effects of hostilities during international armed conflicts. Israel has not ratified Protocol I. However, many of the provisions of Protocol I reaffirm, clarify, or otherwise codify pre-existing, customary international humanitarian law. As such, these rules are binding on both the Israel military and Lebanese guerrilla forces, and in this report Human Rights Watch uses the rules to assess the military conduct of both sides.

In April 1996, Israel sought, as it did during what it called "Operation Accountability" in July 1993, to effect a massive displacement of the civilian population in south Lebanon.2 This was a means of exerting pressure on the Lebanese government to disarm the guerrilla forces opposed to the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon and primarily affiliated with the Lebanese political movements Hizballah and Amal. The strategies used to force civilians to flee the south included: warnings to evacuate a large number of towns and villages in south Lebanon; threats that civilians unwilling or unable to leave would risk their lives; and statements that remaining civilians would be considered "connected with Hizballah" and thus without protection under the laws of war. Residents of the south learned of these strategies through explicit public statements made by Israeli military and government officials, and radio communiqués broadcast by Israel's proxy South Lebanon Army (SLA) throughout Operation Grapes of Wrath. In addition, travel on the main coastal highway linking Beirut with the south was prohibited in a southward direction, and announcements were made that Israeli forces would "strike at every suspicious vehicle." Taken together, these measures constituted acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which was to spread terror among the civilian population, and thus a grave violation of international humanitarian law.3

Civilians remained in south Lebanon for a number of reasons. The poor, the elderly and the disabled simply lacked the wherewithal to leave. Some pregnant women also remained in their homes. Many tobacco-farming families were reluctant to abandon their crops during the brief two-week period when seedlings were bedded out and irrigated. Some families who had evacuated during Operation Accountability in 1993 refused to repeat what had been a difficult experience, and others simply resented being ordered by the Israelis to leave their homes. But Israeli government and military officials made it clear throughout Operation Grapes of Wrath that Lebanese civilians would bear responsibility for their own deaths if they remained in towns and villages in south Lebanon that had been ordered evacuated by the Israeli military and the SLA.

The fact that Lebanese civilians were unwilling or unable to leave their homes according to timetables laid down by the Israeli military in no way absolved Israel of its duty under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population from the dangers arising from military operations, nor did it give Israeli forces a license to attack without distinction or proper precautions homes and vehicles in Mansouri, Nabatiyeh, or elsewhere in south Lebanon.

After the warnings were issued, Israeli officials indicated that civilians who did not leave the designated towns and villages would lose the immunity and protection granted to them under the laws of war. Israeli government spokesperson Uri Dromi said on April 13: "We gave the residents advance warning to clear out so as not to get hurt. All those who remain there, do so at their own risk because we assume they're connected with Hizbollah." The next day, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson said: "Anyone remaining in Tyre or these forty villages [named in the warnings] ... is solely responsible for endangering his life." SLA radio reinforced these messages. A broadcast on April 13 had the following text:

In light of the continued terrorist actions by Hizballah, the Israeli Army will intensify its activities against the terrorists staring tomorrow, 14 April 1996. Following the warning broadcast by the Voice of the South to the inhabitants of 45 villages, any presence in these villages will be considered a terrorist one, that is, the terrorists and all those with them will be hit. Any civilian who lags behind in the aforementioned villages and towns will do so on his own responsibility and will put his life in danger.

This often-articulated position, inconsistent with international humanitarian law, was perhaps the most overlooked aspect of Israel's prosecution of Operation Grapes of Wrath. As the documentation in this report indicates, it led to Lebanese civilian casualties for which Israel bears responsibility.

The report contains the findings of Human Rights Watch's investigation of the circumstances of eight attacks in south Lebanon by Israeli forces, including the three incidents that yielded the highest civilian casualty tolls during the conflict: the helicopter gunship attack on an ambulance in the village of Mansouri on April 13, 1996, that killed two women and four children; the helicopter gunship attack on a house in the village of Upper Nabatiyeh on April 18, 1996, that killed nine civilians, including a newborn baby, six children under thirteen years old, and their mother; and the artillery barrage in Qana, also on April 18, in which over one hundred civilians lost their lives and an unconfirmed number were maimed or permanently injured. These eight attacks fall into four broad categories, each of which raises grave concerns about Israel's compliance with the laws of war:

* Attacks in which civilians were killed because Israel alleged either that towns and villages were empty of civilians, when this obviously was not the case, or that residents who had not evacuated designated towns and villages were "connected with Hizballah" and thus legitimate military targets themselves.

* Indiscriminate and unlawful attacks on community-based medical services in Nabatiyeh provided by the Islamic Health Society, a nationwide health network administered by Hizballah.4

* Indiscriminate attacks on the vehicles of U.N. peacekeepers, which were part of a pattern during Operation Grapes of Wrath of Israel's attempt to impede U.N. peacekeepers' delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians who were unable or unwilling to leave their homes.

* Artillery attacks near and on U.N. bases where civilians were openly sheltered, and the use during such attacks of anti-personnel shells designed to explode above the ground and spread shrapnel over a wide area in order to maximize casualties.

On April 18, 1996, the absence of precautions prior to the attack in close proximity to the town of Qana and the U.N. base located there, as well as the means and methods of attack chosen by the IDF (a sustained artillery barrage without lines of sight to the target), put Israel in violation of international humanitarian law. Israel did not fulfill its obligations to take constant care to spare the civilian population in the conduct of a military operation, nor did it take precautions to avoid or minimize civilian casualties. First, the artillery was fired without the customary warnings issued by the IDF in advance of attacks near positions of U.N. peacekeepers (known as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL). Second, the attack continued even after UNIFIL notified the Israeli military that the base was being shelled. Third, and perhaps most egregiously, Israel's claims that it had no knowledge that hundreds of civilians were sheltered at the Qana base are simply not credible. The decision of those who planned the attack to choose a mix of high-explosive artillery shells that included deadly anti-personnel shells designed to maximize injuries on the ground -- and the sustained firing of such shells, without warning, in close proximity to a large concentration of civilians -- violated a key principle of international humanitarian law.5 The particular tragedy at Qana was that this incident was not unique in its general features. As this report indicates, the Israeli military on previous occasions had violated the laws of war by not taking precautions to spare Lebanese civilians from death and injury prior to launching attacks, and indeed by showing an appalling willingness to conduct military operations in which civilians would bear the brunt of the suffering.

Military Operations in Northern Israel and South Lebanon by Lebanese Guerrilla Forces

Lebanese guerrillas who plan and carry out military activity against Israeli and SLA soldiers and other military targets in occupied south Lebanon are bound by the requirements of international humanitarian law. The guerrillas are in blatant violation of the laws of war when they deliberately target the civilian population inside Israel. Hizballah political leaders have consistently and publicly asserted that the guerrillas have a right to retaliate militarily against Israeli civilians in reprisal for Lebanese civilian deaths caused by Israeli military forces. At the beginning of Operation Grapes of Wrath, Hizballah's secretary-general, al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, promised residents of northern Israel that reprisals would be forthcoming: "What concerns us is that when our civilians are touched your civilians will be touched, too, no matter what consequences they talk about. Yesterday our civilians were the target of aggression, a clear and flagrant aggression. We will respond to the aggression and will bombard the settlements in northern Palestine." On April 14, 1996, a Hizballah spokesman told the Reuter news agency in Beirut: "We are firing dozens of Katyusha rockets into Zionist settlements. The northern settlements will be hit continuously and heavily and we will transform northern Israel into hell."

Of the total of 639 Katyusha rockets were fired into Israeli territory during Operation Grapes of Wrath, about 28 percent were launched on April 14 (eighty-one), the day after an Israeli helicopter attacked an ambulance in Mansouri, killing six civilians, and on April 19 (ninety rockets), the day after nine civilians were killed in a house in Upper Nabatiyeh in the early morning and over one hundred civilians perished in the afternoon in Qana.

Ninety of the 639 Katyusha rockets fired into Israel landed in the vicinity of the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, fifty-eight of them in the city proper, all causing injury or property damage, according to Israeli sources interviewed by Human Rights Watch. The three serious Israeli civilian casualties during the conflict were all residents of Kiryat Shmona.

There were direct hits on eleven houses in Kiryat Shmona, and seven of them sustained heavy damage. Two of the homes were totally destroyed, and two were completely destroyed by fires ignited when the Katyushas exploded. Another 250 homes were moderately damaged, and 1,757 were lightly damaged. Most structures that were not directly hit by rockets were damaged by shrapnel. Some 2,018 homes were damaged in the city, out of a total of 5,800 homes. The area of the Havradim housing development alone, home to 2,100 people, was hit eight times. Three hundred factories and manufacturing plants were also damaged, seven of them badly. Most of these buildings were located within the city's industrial zone, where rockets fell on April 19, April 23, and April 26.

Particularly at the beginning of Operation Grapes of Wrath, the Katyusha attacks appeared timed to yield maximum casualties: rockets were fired in the early morning, when civilians set out for work and school, and in the evening when residents returned home. But residents of the north told Human Rights Watch that after the first three days, the rocket fire became more sporadic. "Once they knew we were in the shelters, they fired at all hours to keep us guessing," said one resident of Kiryat Shmona. "This made it impossible to know when it might be safe to come out." The Katyushas typically were fired in volleys of between two to seven at a time. On April 16, for example, six rockets landed in a Kiryat Shmona neighborhood at the same time. The next day, pairs of rockets rained on different parts of the city throughout the day. "It's a war of nerves," another resident said. "You never know where or when the next Katyusha will land."

The rocket attacks terrorized the civilian population in northern Israel, and forced the displacement of tens of thousands of residents. Katyushas are inaccurate weapons with an indiscriminate effect when fired into areas where civilians are concentrated. The use of such weapons in this manner is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law. In addition, when guerrillas fired the rockets in reprisal for attacks by Israeli military forces that killed or injured Lebanese civilians, they committed another grave violation of the laws of war.6

In south Lebanon, one of the most relevant rules in the context of the guerrillas' military operations is the one that requires their forces "to the maximum extent feasible...avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas."7 This rule clearly encompasses the positioning of mortars and Katyusha rocket launchers within or in close proximity to concentrations of civilians, including displaced civilians sheltered on U.N. bases.

Because it positioned and launched rockets and mortar shells from sites close to the Qana base on April 18, Lebanese guerrilla forces also bear responsibility for the civilian casualties caused by the massive Israeli retaliatory fire. The burden is on the guerrillas to explain the military necessity that required its forces to carry out militaryoperations at these specific locations in such close proximity to a large number of civilians, particularly given their long experience with the predictability of Israeli counterfire in such circumstances. The rules of customary international humanitarian law require all parties to a conflict to take constant care to spare civilians in the conduct of military operations. In the days and hours leading up to the Qana massacre, the guerrillas exhibited a willful disregard for the safety of the civilian population.

1 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I) of June 8, 1977. 2 For information about violations of international humanitarian law by both sides during Operation Accountability, see Human Rights Watch Arms Project and Human Rights Watch/Middle East, Civilian Pawns: Laws of War Violations and the Use of Weapons on the Israel-Lebanon Border (New York, Human Rights Watch: May 1996). 3 Article 51(2) of Protocol I prohibits attacks, and threats of attacks, which are launched or threatened with intent to terrorize the civilian population. It specifically provides: "Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited." This provision is intended to make clear that terror bombing violates the laws of war. On the other hand, the fact that attacks upon legitimate military targets may cause terror among the civilian population do not make such attacks unlawful. In addition, Article 75(2) of Protocol I prohibits collective punishments "at any time and in any place whatsoever." 4 Article 51(4) of Protocol I states that indiscriminate attacks are prohibited, and then provides definitions of such attacks. Article 51(4)(a) states that one type of indiscriminate attack is an attack that is "not directed at a specific military objective." 5 This principle, as articulated in Article 57(2)(a) (ii) of Protocol I, states that those who plan or decide upon attacks must "take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects." 6 Article 51(6) of Protocol I states: "Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited." 7 Article 58(b) of Protocol 1. Article 58(c) also requires that parties to the conflict, to the maximum extent feasible, shall "take other necessary precautions to protect the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects under their control against the dangers resulting from military operations."