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Hezbollah and Israel must not under any circumstances attack civilians in Israel and Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on all sides to scrupulously respect the absolute prohibition against targeting civilians or carrying out attacks that indiscriminately harm civilians.

“Hezbollah and Israel must make protecting civilians the priority, and direct attacks only at military targets,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch said that attacks on civilians, or acts to intimidate civilians, clearly violate international humanitarian law, and may constitute war crimes, even if carried out in reprisal for attacks by an adversary on one’s own civilians.

Following Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers from the Israeli side of the Lebanese border yesterday, Israel launched air and artillery attacks against targets in Lebanon, including Beirut’s international airport and bridges and highways south of the capital, and instituted an air, sea, and land blockade. According to media reports, the attacks have killed at least 55 civilians and wounded more than 100. Hizballah forces have launched scores of rockets across the border into northern Israel, killing two civilians and injuring approximately 150.

Today, Israeli military officials and Hezbollah leaders traded threats to attack areas populated by civilians. The Israeli chief of staff, Brig.Gen. Dan Halutz, noted in public remarks that senior Hezbollah leaders live and work in southern Beirut, and said Beirut could be targeted if Hezbollah continued to fire rockets into northern Israel. “Nothing is safe [in Lebanon], it’s as simple as that,” Halutz said.

A Hezbollah statement said, “In case the southern suburb of Beirut or the city of Beirut come under direct Israeli attack, we announce that we will bombard the city of Haifa and its environs.” Israeli media reports quoted an unnamed officer of the Israel Defense Forces as saying, “If they attack Haifa and Hadera, it will constitute a reason to severely damage Lebanese infrastructures, including Hizballah’s 20-storey buildings inside Beirut.”

This evening some media reported that at least one rocket fired from Lebanon had landed in or near Haifa. Hezbollah reportedly denied it had launched any such attacks. At the time of writing, Israeli media reported that the Israeli Air Force was dropping leaflets in Beirut urging people to leave areas where Hezbollah leaders live or work.

International humanitarian law requires that armed forces distinguish between combatants and civilians, and between military objects and civilian objects, at all times. It is also forbidden to carry out indiscriminate attacks or attacks that cause damage disproportionate to the anticipated concrete military advantage.

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