This report is based primarily on investigations by Human Rights Watch researchers, who have been in Beirut since the onset of the conflict and traveled for two days to Lebanons South. The team focused on interviewing witnesses and survivors of Israeli strikes inside Lebanon, gathering detailed testimony from these individuals, and carefully corroborating and cross-checking their accounts with international aid workers, international and local journalists, medical professionals, local officials, as well as information from the IDF.
Security conditions did not permit on-site visits to many of the villages or other sites where civilian casualties are documented in this report, but in all cases Human Rights Watch located eyewitnesses to attacks. All cases for which Human Rights Watch could not find eyewitnesses, survivors, or other credible sources of information have been excluded from this report. A parallel team of Human Rights Watch researchers operated during this same period in northern Israel investigating and reporting on Hezbollahs attacks on civilians in Israel. That team also contributed to Human Rights Watchs understanding of IDF operations in Lebanon through on-site observations and conversations with IDF spokespersons.
In a small minority of cases, Human Rights Watch researchers in Lebanon could locate witnesses only in Hezbollah-controlled camps for displaced persons in Beirut. Hezbollah controls an estimated seventy of the 120 schools currently housing the displaced. On such occasions, Hezbollah officials often insisted that Human Rights Watch researchers not ask questions about the location of Hezbollah militants because such information, wherever Hezbollah might be located, was of military value. These conditions limited Human Rights Watchs ability to make a legal determination regarding whether the target in question was legitimate. In such cases, researchers sought additional witnesses outside of Hezbollahs control to investigate the location of Hezbollah militants in the area at the time of the attack. If such witnesses could not be found, Human Rights Watch dropped the case.
As noted, in the cases documented in this report, witnesses consistently told Human Rights Watch that neither Hezbollah fighters nor other legitimate military targets were in the area that the IDF attacked. However, Human Rights Watch did document cases in which the IDF hit legitimate military targets, and, with limited exceptions, witnesses were generally willing to discuss the presence and activity of Hezbollah. At the sites visited by Human Rights WatchQana, Srifa, Tyre, and the southern suburbs of Beiruton-site investigations did not identify any signs of military activity in the area attacked, such as trenches, destroyed rocket launchers, other military equipment, or dead or wounded fighters. International and local journalists, rescue workers, and international observers also did not produce evidence to contradict the statements of witnesses interviewed for this report.
The researchers also monitored information from public sources about the attacks, including Israeli government statements. Although Human Rights Watchs research has been extensive, it is, as noted, not comprehensive. Further inquiry is required, particularly as access to the affected villages in South Lebanon improves, and to the extent that Israel ultimately decides to make its commanders and soldiers involved in the operation available for interviews.