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Attacks on Civilian Homes

Since July 12, when Hezbollah launched an attack on Israeli positions initially killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two, Israel and Hezbollah have engaged in intense hostilities.  Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes against targets in Lebanon, including extensive attacks against Lebanon’s infrastructure, private homes and apartment buildings, as well as vehicles moving on roads.  Israeli strikes have been especially heavy in Shi’a-dominated areas of Lebanon, considered to be Hezbollah strongholds, including southern Lebanon, the southern suburbs of Beirut, and the Beqaa Valley.

To date, the chief cause of civilian deaths from the Israeli campaign is targeted strikes on civilian homes in villages of Lebanon’s South.  There has also been large-scale destruction of civilian apartment buildings in southern Beirut, though most of the residents of those buildings had evacuated prior to the attacks.  According to the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, the IDF destroyed or damaged up to 5,000 civilian homes in air strikes during the first two weeks of the war.6  As demonstrated by the case studies below, Israel has caused large-scale civilian casualties by striking civilian homes, with no apparent military objective either inside the home or in the vicinity.  In some cases, warplanes returned to strike again while residents and neighbors had gathered around the house to remove the dead and assist the wounded.

Israel claims that it is attacking homes belonging to Hezbollah members, and that Hezbollah is responsible for putting civilians at risk by placing their military positions inside or close to civilian homes.  On July 19, for example, the IDF stated that “Hezbollah terrorists have turned southern Lebanon into a war zone and are operating near population centers there, using civilians as human shields.”7  On the same day, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, told CNN: “We are trying to minimize hurting civilians, but when Hezbollah uses civilians as human shields, sometimes civilians will get hurt.”8

Human Rights Watch research established that, on some limited occasions, Hezbollah fighters have attempted to store weapons near civilian homes and have fired rockets from areas where civilians live.  However, such practices do not justify the IDF’s failure to distinguish between combatants and civilians.

On July 15, for example, a group of villagers from Marwahin left the area in a convoy, in part because Hezbollah was attempting to store weapons behind their homes, and residents feared a retaliatory IDF strike.9  Two rockets believed to have been fired from Israeli helicopters struck a white pick-up and a passenger car in the convoy on the road between the villages of Chamaa and Biyada, killing twenty-one civilians (see “Attacks on Fleeing Civilians”).  A U.N. team trying to retrieve the bodies came under fire from the IDF.10  While the villagers’ flight could be attributed in part to Hezbollah’s unlawful attempt to store weapons in Marwahin—the main reason for flight was the Israeli warning to evacuate within two hour—Human Rights Watch found no evidence to suggest that Hezbollah fighters were near the civilian convoy when it got hit.

Christian villagers fleeing the village of `Ain Ebel have also complained about Hezbollah tactics that placed them at risk, telling the New York Times that “Hezbollah came to [our village] to shoot its rockets.… They are shooting from between our houses.”11 `Ain Ebel was a former stronghold for the Israeli-backed South Lebanese Army (SLA), a force opposed to Hezbollah. According to an official from `Ain Ebel, some villagers told him that Hezbollah had fired at Israel from certain positions close to their houses, although so far Human Rights Watch has heard no reports of Hezbollah entering any village homes.  No villagers have died but a number have been injured (mostly from broken glass), and Israeli fire had destroyed roughly eighty of 400 houses, he said.12

Human Rights Watch is hardly asserting that all Israeli strikes have targeted civilians.  There are obviously many cases in which Israeli forces attacked legitimate military targets, such as rocket launchers and dug-in military positions.  However, in the cases documented below, no apparent military objective existed in the civilian houses that Israel attacked. Villagers interviewed privately in one-on-one settings stated credibly and consistently that Hezbollah was not present in their homes or the vicinity when the attacks took place, and Human Rights Watch found no other evidence to suggest that Hezbollah had been there.

Killing of Four Brazilian-Lebanese Civilians in Srifa, July 13

On two occasions, the IDF killed civilians in the village Srifa, located twenty-five kilometers from the Israel-Lebanon border.  The first attack on July 13 killed four Brazilian-Lebanese dual nationals.  On July 19, another strike killed nineteen people (see below).

The first took place at about 4 a.m. on July 13, around the same time as other air strikes on the villages of Dweir and Baflay (see below).  Fatima Musa, a Srifa resident, described the strike to Human Rights Watch:

First they hit a school building at night, from Wednesday to Thursday, starting at around 3:30 to 4 a.m.  Then, they hit the house just behind us.  We didn’t hear the airplanes, we just heard the rocket.  We were sleeping and woke up when the house lit up from the explosions.  My son was shivering with fear.13

The air strike hit a home in the Ain neighborhood of Srifa, demolishing the home and killing the family inside.

According to three witnesses, the four persons killed in the first strike on Srifa were all Brazilian-Lebanese dual nationals who had come to Srifa less than one month before to spend their summer vacation in the village.14 The witnesses identified the dead as Akil Merhi, 33;  his wife, Ahlam Merhi, 25; their son, Abd’el Hadi Merhi, 8; and their daughter, Fatima Merhi, 4.  Because the family was only vacationing in Lebanon and normally resided in Brazil, it is unlikely that their adult members were involved in Hezbollah activities.  The witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch also denied there was a Hezbollah presence or fighting in the area at the time of the attack

In a statement, the IDF claimed to have struck “two Hezbollah bases” in Srifa on that day.15

The bodies of the four Merhi family members were covered with rubble, and firing from Israeli war planes prevented the villagers from digging them out.  According to one witness:

The first time they tried to get the bodies out, some villagers went to try and extract them from the rubble, but another rocket fired on the home.  Eventually they were able to get the bodies out, but that was only about noon.  The bodies were buried in the village around 5 p.m.16

There was no Hezbollah activity around the home when the second bomb struck, the villagers said.

Killing of Thirteen Civilians in Dweir, July 13

On Thursday, July 13, at about 4:00 a.m., Israeli warplanes struck the home of Shi’a cleric Sheikh `Adil Mohammed Akash, killing the cleric and eleven members of his family. Sheikh Akash was an Iranian-educated cleric and is believed to have been affiliated with Hezbollah, although there is no indication that he took part in hostilities or had a commanding role, either of which might have made him a legitimate military target.

The first missile demolished the two-story home in the village of Dweir, located halfway between Saida and Tyre, while a second missile fired minutes later failed to explode.  The sheikh and his family had returned to the home just twenty minutes before the strike, an eyewitness who lived nearby told Human Rights Watch.17  The strike killed Sheikh `Adil Mohammed Akash; his wife, Rabab Yasin, 39; and ten of their children:  Mohammed Baker Akash, 18; Mohammed Hassan Akash, 7; Fatima Akash, 17; `Ali Rida Akash, 12; Ghadir Akash, 10; Zeinab Akash, 13; Sara Akash, 5; Batul Akash, 4; Nour el-Huda Akash, 2; and Safa’ Akash, 2 months.  The family’s Sri Lankan maid, whose name is not known, also died.18

There was no evidence of Hezbollah military activity in or around the home, and the village of Dweir is too far from the Israeli border (about 40 kilometers) to serve as an effective launching site for Hezbollah rockets.

International law permits the targeting of military commanders in the course of armed conflict, provided that such attacks otherwise comply with the laws that protect civilians. Political leaders, however, are civilians; they are not legitimate military targets. The only exception to this rule is if they assume a military command or participate directly in military hostilities, which would then render them combatants.

Even if Israel believed Sheikh Akash was a legitimate military target because of his possible involvement in Hezbollah military activities (of which Human Rights Watch has no evidence), Israel should have taken into account the likely civilian casualties of attacking him in his home in determining whether the military gain of attacking him there outweighed the civilian harm.  In this case, the death of at best one possible Hezbollah member cost the lives of twelve civilians, nine of them children.

Killing of Nine Civilians in Baflay, July 13

On Thursday, July 13, at about 4:30 a.m., an Israeli air strike demolished the home of 45-year-old Munir Zein, a farmer who also owned the truck used to collect the garbage of the village of Baflay, located some ten kilometers east of the southern port city of Tyre.  Villagers interviewed by Human Rights Watch were adamant that Munir Zein had no connection to Hezbollah and that there was no Hezbollah military activity or presence in the area.  Ahmed Roz, a  46-year-old salesman who lived just 150 meters from the Zein home, recalled what happened:

There was a big air strike between Baflay and al-Shehabiyye.  We could see that attack from our home and were watching.  Suddenly we heard a loud noise and saw a bright flash.  Our doors were blown open.  All we saw coming from the Zein house was smoke.  Then there was a second strike.19

The Israeli air strike demolished the entire Zein home, killing all nine people inside, including three young children and two Kuwaiti nationals, according to two witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch.  Those killed were Munir Zein and his wife Najla Zein, 45; their children Ali, 21; Wala, 18; Hassan, 12; Fatima, 9; and Hussain, 5.  Also killed were Abdullah el-Tahi, the husband of one of the Zeins’ daughters, Huriya, and his father, Heidar el-Tahi, both Kuwaiti nationals visiting their in-laws at the time of the attack.  Huriya was in Beirut at the time of the attack.  The bodies of most of her family members were recovered, except for that of Munir Zein, which remains buried under the rubble.20

Killing of Twelve Civilians, Zibqine, July 13

On the morning of July 13, Israeli warplanes fired twice at the two-story home of Na`im Bazi`, the late mayor of the village of Zibqine, located some five kilometers north of the Israel-Lebanon border.  According to a respected Lebanese human rights activist who personally knew Na`im Bazi` (who died a few years ago), Bazi` and his family were not affiliated with Hezbollah.21 Human Rights Watch also found no evidence of Hezbollah activity in the area of the home when the attack took place.

Twelve members of the family were reportedly killed in the air strike, including six children.  Among the identified dead are Fatima Na`im Bazi`, about 75; Na`im Wael Bazi`, 20; Su`ad Nasour Bazi`, age unknown; `Aziz Bazi`, age unknown; Khalud Muhammed Bazi`, 18; Malak `Ali Bazi`, 16; Hussain Na`im Bazi`, age unknown; Mariam al-Husseini Bazi`, 45; Amale Na`im Bazi`, age unknown; and Farah Muhammad Bazi`, age unknown.  According to press reports, the youngest member of the Bazi` family killed in the attack was seven years old.22

Two members of the family survived the air strike and were taken to the hospital. The bodies of the dead were taken to the morgue in Tyre, where they were buried during a July 22 mass burial ceremony involving 84 victims of the Israeli bombing campaign.

Killing of Four Civilians, Including a U.S.-Lebanese National, in Bent Jbeil, July 15

At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 15, an Israeli airplane fired at a three-story civilian home in Bent Jbeil, a large town near Lebanon’s border with Israel.  The strike collapsed the home, killing 80-year-old Haj Abu Naji Mrouj, and his 40-year-old daughter whose name is unknown to Human Rights Watch, and trapping their bodies under the rubble.  Hashem Kazan, 16, who was wounded in the second strike while trying to recover the bodies (see below), told Human Rights Watch that Haj Abu Naji Mrouj had nothing to do with Hezbollah. “Haj Abu Naji was not Hezbollah; he was an old man who didn’t work anymore,” he said.  “The Haj just lived in his house with his daughter.”23  The bodies of Haj Abu Naji and his daughter remain buried in the rubble of their demolished home.  Another witness denied that there was any Hezbollah presence at or near the home at the time of the attack.24

While villagers were attempting to dig the bodies out of the rubble, an Israeli warplane fired a second missile at the rubble and the rescuers at around 1:15 p.m., killing two male civilians, including 30-year-old Bilal Hreish, a U.S.-Lebanese dual national.   Hashem Kazan told Human Rights Watch how he was wounded during the second attack as he worked to recover the bodies:

There was no Hezbollah at the house when I went there, and there was no fighting taking place in the village—there was no one but civilians.  The civil defense was there to help us [recover the bodies].  Originally, there were about fifty people at the rubble trying to help, but then we were only about ten.  We were on the rooftop of the house when we were hit.  I didn’t hear anything, I just heard the explosion.25

Hashem Kazan told Human Rights Watch that at least six were wounded in the second air strike, including two sons of Haj Abu Naji Mrouj.26

Killing of Two Civilians in Houla, July 15

On Saturday July 15, at about 9:30 p.m., an Israeli Apache helicopter fired into the home of Ibrahim Suleiman, a wage laborer, in the village of Houla, located on the Israel-Lebanon border 25 kilometers east of Tyre. “Neither he nor his children were involved in Hezbollah, nor was there any [Hezbollah] resistance in the town at the time,”said Ibrahim Suleiman’s neighbor Ali Rizak.27 The attack demolished the Suleiman home, killing his daughter, Salman Suleiman, 17, and his daughter-in-law, Zeinab, 20, the mother of a four-year-old baby daughter.  Zeinab’s husband, Ali Suleiman, and his brother-in-law, Abed, were injured in the strike.28

Killing of Eleven Civilians, Including Seven Canadian-Lebanese Nationals, in Aitaroun, July 16

Between 6 and 7 p.m. on July 16, an Israeli airplane fired into a civilian home in Aitaroun, located just one kilometer north of the Israel-Lebanon border, killing eleven members of the Al-Akhrass family, including seven Canadian-Lebanese dual nationals who were vacationing in the village when the Israeli offensive began.  A woman who lived three hundred meters away from the al-Akhrass home described the strike to Human Rights Watch:

For the first two days after the kidnapping of the [Israeli] soldiers, we heard planes and bombs, but there was no attack on the village.  Starting on the third day, they started bombing the fields around Aitaroun.  We could hear the bombs fall, and they were starting fires in the field.  There was a family from Canada; they had come just a few days before the war.  They were in the kitchen hiding when a bomb hit their house.  It was around 6 or 7 p.m.  We suddenly heard a plane flying low; it dropped a rocket, and there was a big explosion, with rubble flying in the air.  We were only about 300 meters away.  People ran towards the house to try to save them, but they only found parts of bodies…. When we tried to save them, a helicopter would appear in the sky and a warplane would fly around.  So we got scared and stayed away.  We recovered between six and eight bodies, but were told there may be more, and they were all in pieces.  The Sheikh buried them immediately.  There were young women among them.29

Human Rights Watch obtained the names of eight of the eleven people killed in the attack: Amira al-Akhrass, 23; her children Saya, 7, Zeinab, 5, Ahmad, 3, and Salam, 1; their aunt, Haniya al-Akhrass, believed to have been in her sixties; and two uncles, Mohammed Mahmood al-Akhrass, aged between 70 and 80, and his younger brother, Hassan Mahmood al-Akhrass, about 70.30  Villagers interviewed by Human Rigths Watch believe that some of the dead members of the al-Akhrass family are still buried under the rubble of the home, because they smelled decomposing bodies there.

Three villagers, interviewed separately by Human Rights Watch, vigorously denied that the al-Akhrass family had any connection with Hezbollah.  They also denied that Hezbollah was active in the vicinity of the house or the village at the time of the attack.  “There was no presence of the [Hezbollah] resistance inside the village,” one witness said. “The positions of the resistance are around the village, not inside the village.”31  A second witness told Human Rights Watch: “I don’t know why their house was targeted, because there was no resistance there.”32  A third villager explained that while Aitaroun is right on the frontlines, Hezbollah was not firing from the village itself:

Aitaroun is very close to the Israeli border, right on the line.  If there is any sort of invasion [from Israel], it will happen there.  But I have never seen a rocket fired from the village; those allegations are incorrect.… On the other hand, if you talk in terms of support for Hezbollah, the entire south supports Hezbollah.  Since 1948, our villages in the south have been hit by Israeli attacks, so what do you expect?33

The political leanings of the civilian population in a given area or village are irrelevant as far as their civilian status is concerned.  To the extent that civilians do not participate in hostilities, that is, do not commit acts that by their nature or purpose are likely to cause harm to the personnel and equipment of the enemy, they continue to benefit from the protection afforded by their civilian status.  Directing an attack against civilians, regardless of their political sympathies, is a war crime.

The Israeli government expressed its regret over the deaths and said that “Israel was fighting Hizbullah [sic] and attacking its targets, and was being as careful as possible not to hurt innocent civilians.”34

Killing of Eleven Civilians in Tyre, July 16

Between 5 and 6 p.m. on July 16, two Israeli air strikes hit a residential building that housed the civil defense offices in Tyre on its first floor, collapsing the four top floors of the building.35  The apartment of Sayyid ‘Ali Al-Amin, the Shi’a mufti for Tyre and Jabal `Amel, and the offices of former member of parliament Muhammad Abdel Hamid Beydoun were also in the building. Neither Sayyid Al-Amin nor Mr. Beydoun is affiliated with Hezbollah, nor were they present in the building at the time of the attack.  The strikes also damaged three neighboring apartment buildings, eight to ten stories high. 

In Lebanon, the civil defense forces mostly carry out activities such as firefighting and providing medical and humanitarian assistance during crises.  Human Rights Watch has found no evidence that the civil defense forces have taken part in hostilities between Lebanon and Israel, or that Hezbollah fighters were in the building or were storing equipment there.

According to two residents of the apartment building interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the building residents were mostly teachers and doctors from the nearby hospital.36  A building resident and the director-general of the civil defense both told Human Rights Watch that Hezbollah had no presence in the buildings attacked.37

Zakaria `Alamadin, 18, had just left the basement of the apartment buildings when an Israeli missile hit the building, wounding him. “Everything just went dark and things were falling on me,” he said.38 Among those killed in the basement of the building were Zakaria’s father, Mohammed Hussain `Alamadin, a 55-year-old teacher, and Zakaria’s 14-year-old brother, Ali Mohammed `Alamadin.

Mr. `Alamadin, his son `Ali and seven others killed as a result of the attack were transferred to the Tyre public hospital where they were buried during a public ceremony at the hospital on July 21: Najib Shamsuldin, `Ali Shamsuldin, Hussein Muzyid, Haytham Hussein Muzyid, 34; `Alia Wehbi, 40; Sally Wehbi, 7; and Ayman Daher.39  A civil defense official in Tyre told Human Rights Watch on August 1 that two bodies remained trapped in the rubble of the collapsed top floors of the building, including that of an unidentified woman.40  When Human Rights Watch visited the civil defense building that day, the smell of decomposing bodies remained.41

Ten staff members of the Lebanese civil defense force and twenty-five volunteers were inside the civil defense offices at the time of the attack.42  According to a civil defense official in Tyre, eight members of the civil defense were injured in the attack, including the head of the civil defense center, Abbas Ghorayeb, who was hospitalized in critical condition but has since recovered.43

Civil defense institutions play a key role in the protection of the civilian population.  There is international consensus that they and their personnel must be “respected and protected.”44 The same protections apply to civilians in the course of responding to appeals from the authorities to perform civil defense functions even though they are not formal members of civilian civil defense organizations. Objects used for civil defense purposes may not be destroyed or diverted from their proper use. The protection to which civil defense organizations and personnel are entitled shall not cease unless they commit, outside their proper tasks, acts harmful to the enemy.45

Because there is no evidence that the Lebanese civil defense committed any acts “harmful to the enemy,”46 or that hostile acts had taken place from their installations, the attack on the civil defense building and its personnel constitutes a serious violation of international humanitarian law. The building was marked with a sign outside indicating that the civil defense had its offices there.However, a high-ranking civil defense official told Human Rights Watch that the building was not marked on the roof with the internationally recognized distinctive sign for civil defense, an equilateral blue triangle on an orange background.47

It is not known whether Israel was aware of the protected status of the building at the time of the attack. Such information would affect the severity of the violation of international humanitarian law, as it would help determine whether Israel deliberately targeted a protected facility. The IDF has only stated that it targeted “the headquarters of the [Hezbollah] organization in Tyre,” an assertion contradicted by witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch.48

Killing of Ten Civilians in Aitaroun, July 17

The night after an air strike that killed eleven members of the Canadian-Lebanese Al-Akhrass family, warplanes again struck a civilian home in Aitaroun.  A witness who lived just one hundred meters from this second home told Human Rights Watch what she had seen. “The day after the first massacre, we were sleeping; it was about 12:45 at night.  Some were in the shelter, but we were in our house,” said Manal Hassan Alawiye.  “Suddenly, we heard a plane flying low.  The plane dropped a bomb, and all the windows in our house were blown out.  My fiancé took me down to the shelter, and he went to help the people at the house.”49

The two-story house that had been hit belonged to Hussain Neif Awada, the 34-year-old owner of a shoe shop.  His brother Musa Neif Awada, 47, had brought his family to shelter in the stronger basement of Hussain’s house.  The air strike killed Hussain Awada; his wife, Jamila; and their children, `Ali, about 12, Hassan, 11, Mahmood, 7, and two younger daughters whose names were not known to the witnesses.  Also killed were Musa Awada and his two-year-old son.

A witness told Human Rights Watch:

The attack took place at night, so everyone was inside their homes.  I am positive the family had nothing to do with Hezbollah.  To my knowledge, Hezbollah was not operating in the area, but I can’t be 100% sure because we were sleeping.  There is a road near the house that Hezbollah members could of course use to move around, but it was late and we were asleep in the shelter.50

Manal Hassan Alawiye also said the family had no links with Hezbollah.  “Musa Awada is a schoolteacher, and he had nothing to do with the resistance,” she told Human Rights Watch.  “He wanted nothing to do with politics.”51

Killing of an Estimated Twenty-six Civilians in Srifa, July 19

Following the July 13 attack on Srifa village that killed four members of a Brazilian-Lebanese family (see above), Israeli warplanes and Apache helicopters continued to bomb the village and the surrounding fields, putting the villagers into a state of panic.  A villager who had fled from Srifa explained how the heavy Israeli bombardment effectively trapped people inside the village, and how the village Sheikh had ordered the terrified civilians to seek refuge in the wealthier “Moscow” neighborhood of the village, where the multiple-story homes had concrete basements that offered greater protection:

After the first bombing, villagers started fleeing to neighboring villages for safety.  Israel saw this from their drones, and they sent Apache helicopters to circle the village to prevent us from leaving.  They started shelling the area around the village from airplanes.  There were also Apache helicopters circling over the village. Two Apaches would come and leave, and then another two Apaches would come.… The Sheikh of the village told the villagers to hide in their shelters.  The people followed the advice of the Sheikh, and so they sought shelter in the big houses with basements used to dry tobacco [in the “Moscow” neighborhood.]52

Around 3:30 a.m. on July 19, at least three Israeli airplanes struck at least thirteen homes in the “Moscow” neighborhood, firing multiple munitions and collapsing the homes on their basements packed with sheltering civilians.  “At 3:30 a.m. the attacks started,” said Qassim Mustafa Nazal, a resident.  “We suddenly heard bombs, one hit, then two hits at the same time, overall between 12 to 16 rockets hit the Moscow neighborhood.”53  

As of this writing, the number of victims remains unknown because rescue workers have been unable to reach the village to recover the bodies, which remain buried under the rubble, and Israeli warplanes and helicopter strikes have prevented the local villagers from recovering all of the bodies themselves.  A local resident coordinating the recovery effort estimated to Human Rights Watch that approximately twenty-six bodies remained under the rubble as of July 31,54 but other residents estimated that as many as forty-two are missing after the attack.55  Two Human Rights Watch researchers visited Srifa briefly on July 31, as local residents recovered the heavily decomposed body of one female victim.  The researchers saw no signs of Hezbollah military activity in the village, such as weapons, military equipment, or trenches.  The researchers did count at least thirteen homes that had completely collapsed, and relatives of the victims claimed that bodies remained trapped under many of the homes and that they had received no assistance to recover the bodies.

From surviving relatives, Human Rights Watch has been able to obtain the names of sixteen persons believed to have been killed in the attack (but whose bodies are still not recovered).  Among them are eight members of a single household:  Kamil Diab Jaber, a 53-year-old owner of a construction business and a bakery; Mahmoud Jaber, 33; Ali Kamil Jaber, 30; Ahmed Kamil Jaber, 27; Menehil Najdi, 80; Ali Nazal, 28; Ali Za’rour, 30; and Bilal Hamoudi, 31.56  Also believed killed were three people in the house next to the Jaber family: Abbas Abbas Dakrub, 21; Abbas Dakrub (cousin of Abbas), 18; and Wasim Ghalib Najdi.57  At least five civilians are believed to have died in a third home belonging to Mohammed Qasim Najdi: Ahmed Najdi, 35, who had just returned to Lebanon from Russia; Hassan Qoreim, 22; Ali Najdi, 30; Mohammed Ali Najdi, 35; and Ali Hassan Sabra, 17.58

According to a villager who was in the village at the time of the attack:

There was no Hezbollah in the neighborhood.  This neighborhood is known to be partial to the Communist Party, not Hezbollah.  There are no Hezbollah people living there.  Hezbollah does not have a need to be in this neighborhood, because we are 40 kilometers away from Israel, and the neighborhood looks out over the sea, it is not a strategic place.59

Two additional villagers told Human Rights Watch in separate interviews that Hezbollah had not been present in the neighborhood around the time of the attack.  “Except for one person, who didn’t even belong to Hezbollah, no one in that neighborhood knew how to handle weapons,” said Hussain Nazal.  “He added, “If they hit some houses that belong to Hezbollah we would understand, but this is not the [Hezbollah] neighborhood.”60

Human Rights Watch asked the office of the IDF spokesperson for information about the attack, which was widely reported in the press.  The spokesperson responded that, after consulting with the Israeli Air Force, “on that day at that place we don’t have a report of any air strike.”61

Killing of Three Civilians in Debbine Marja’youn, July 19

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 19, Israeli munitions destroyed the home of Dawood al-Khaled in Debbine Marja’youn (a neighborhood on the outskirts of the southern town of Marja’youn). Dawood’s sister, who lived next door, told Human Rights Watch that the strike came from an Israeli Apache helicopter. At the time of the attack, the house was occupied by Dawood; his wife, Hamida; and their six children: Hoda, 14; Fatima, 12; `Abla, 10; `Ali, 3; Huweida, 8; and Ahmad, 1. The strike killed Dawood, his daughter, `Abla, and his son, Ahmad. Hoda and Huweida were gravely injured. Hamida and the other two children, Fatima and `Ali, were unharmed. Dawood’s sister told Human Rights Watch that he was a farmer and not involved with Hezbollah. She told Human Rights Watch that Hezbollah was active outside of the village but not inside, and that, to her knowledge, there were no military objects next to Dawood’s house. A second attack hit the area around the house later on but injured no one.62

Death of One Civilian and Wounding of Twelve by Cluster Munitions in Blida, July 19

In addition to strikes from airplanes, helicopters, and traditional artillery, Israel has used artillery-fired cluster munitions against populated areas, causing civilian casualties.  According to eyewitnesses and survivors of the attack interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Israel fired several artillery-based cluster munitions at Blida around 3:00 p.m. on July 19. Three witnesses described how the artillery shells dropped hundreds of cluster submunitions on the village. They described the submunitions as smaller projectiles that emerged from their larger shells.

The cluster attack killed sixty-year-old Maryam Ibrahim inside her home. At least two submunitions from the attack entered the basement that the Ali family was using as a shelter, wounding twelve people, including seven children. Ahmed Ali, a 45-year-old taxi driver and head of the family, lost both legs from injuries caused by the cluster submunitions. Five of his children were wounded: Mira, 16; Fatima, 12; ‘Ali, 10; Aya, 3; and `Ola, 1. His wife, Akram Ibrahim, 35, and his mother-in-law, `Ola Musa, 80, were also wounded. Four relatives, all German-Lebanese dual nationals sheltering with the family, were wounded as well: Mohammed Ibrahim, 45; his wife Fatima, 40; and their children ‘Ali, 16, and Rula, 13.  According to Ahmed Ali, “there were no Hezbollah in our village.  There was fighting in Aitaroun [on the Israeli border southwest of Blida, located about 3-4 kilometers away] at the time, and we are very close to them.  From about two kilometers away from us, Hezbollah was firing rockets, but the IDF rockets fell on our village.”63 Akram Ibrahim, one of the wounded family members, told Human Rights Watch: “There was no resistance in the village and no one firing from the village.  We have nothing to do with the parties, we are just civilians.”64

Cluster munitions are weapons, delivered from the air or ground, that disperse dozens, and often hundreds, of submunitions (often called “grenades” in surface-delivered weapons and “bomblets” in air-delivered weapons) over a large area, thereby increasing the radius of destructive effect over a target.  Their wide dispersal area precludes them from being focused on a particular target unless it is quite large.

There is no specific international prohibition on the use of cluster munitions (unlike, for example, blinding lasers or chemical weapons). However, their use in or near civilian areas violates the international humanitarian law prohibition on indiscriminate attacks because they cannot be directed in a way that distinguishes between military targets and civilians.  In addition, cluster bomblets have a high initial failure rate—the munitions used by Israel in Lebanon have an initial failure rate of up to 14 percent—which results in numerous unexploded but highly volatile “duds” scattered about the landscape.  These pose similar risks to civilians as antipersonnel landmines.

Killing of Three Civilians, Including Brazilian-Lebanese National, in Tallousa, July 20

On the afternoon of Thursday, July 20, Israeli warplanes attacked three civilian homes, including the house of the mayor, in the village of Tallousa, located some 20 kilometers east of Tyre.  According to the villagers, the mayor was not associated with Hezbollah and had made his money in Africa before returning to Tallousa.  The villagers said that there was no Hezbollah military activity in the vicinity when the air strike occurred.65

The air strike collapsed the three homes, killing the mayor’s mother, Dahiya Turmus, 70, an eight-year-old boy named Ali Nabih in the neighboring home, and a Brazilian-Lebanese dual national boy aged between seven and ten whose name the witness Human Rights Watch interviewed did not know.66

Killing of Four U.N. Observers, July 25

Around 7:30 p.m. on July 25, an Israeli precision-guided missile directly hit the clearly marked and well known observer post of the U.N’s Observer Group Lebanon (OGL) near Khiyam, demolishing a three-story building at the base and killing four unarmed United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) observers from Austria, Canada, Finland, and China.

The direct hit came after fourteen Israeli aerial bombs and artillery shells had fallen close to the post, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said.67  There was no Hezbollah presence or firing near the U.N. position during the period of the attack.  According to the United Nations, the Force Commander in south Lebanon, Gen. Alain Pelligrini, was in “repeated contact with Israeli Army officers throughout the afternoon, pressing the need to protect that particular U.N. position from firing.”68

In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed shock at the “apparently deliberate targeting” of the “clearly marked U.N. observer post.”  He called it a “coordinated artillery and aerial attack” and urged Israel to conduct an investigation.69

Israel expressed “deep regret” over the incident and rejected allegations that it had targeted the U.N. post.70  Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to conduct a thorough investigation.  “It’s inconceivable for the U.N. to define an error as an apparently deliberate action,” he said.71  Secretary-General Annan accepted the Israeli government’s assurance that the attack was not deliberate but regretted that Israel would not allow the U.N. to participate in the investigation.72

This was the first deadly attack on U.N. observers in Southern Lebanon during the current conflict, but Israeli forces have struck at or near other clearly marked U.N. positions since the beginning of the fighting.  Hezbollah has occasionally fired at Israeli targets from near U.N. positions, but in many cases Israeli fire has struck U.N. posts in the absence of any Hezbollah presence.

On July 24, four Ghanaian UNIFIL observers were lightly injured when an Israeli tank shell fell inside their U.N. post at Rmaish, one of six incidents of IDF fire on or close to U.N. positions recorded that day.73 On July 16, UNIFIL recorded seventeen instances of IDF fire on U.N. observer posts, including two direct hits inside UNIFIL observer posts, and an Indian peacekeeper was seriously wounded by an IDF tank shell fired inside a U.N. post.74  UNIFIL’s summary of attacks on its positions on July 19 gives a troubling overview of just how often Israeli shells have landed on their positions, as well as the actions of Hezbollah fighters that endanger UNIFIL personnel:

There were 31 incidents of firing close to UN positions during the past 24 hours, with three positions suffering direct hits from the Israeli side. Ten artillery shells impacted inside the UN position of the Ghanaian battalion on the coast of Ras Naquora, causing extensive damage. Four artillery shells impacted inside the patrol base of the Observer Group Lebanon in the Marun el Ras area, including three direct impacts on the building which caused extensive damage and cut electricity and communication connections.  At the time of the shelling, there were 36 civilians inside the position, most of whom were women and children from the village of Marun el Ras. There were no casualties. One artillery shell impacted inside the UNIFIL Headquarters compound in Naqoura, causing extensive damage and danger to the UNIFIL hospital where the doctors were operating at the time. Splinters of artillery shells also damaged the boundary wall of the Naqoura camp. Extensive shelling damage was reported in the Ghanaian battalion position south of Alma Ash Shab. Hezbollah firing was also reported from the immediate vicinity of UN positions in the Naqoura and Marun el Ras areas at the time of the incidents.75

On July 17, a UNIFIL medical team came under IDF fire while trying to retrieve the bodies of sixteen civilians killed by an Israeli strike on the road between al-Bayyadah and Sharma as they fled the village of Marwahin.76  On July 16, UNIFIL recorded seventeen instances of IDF fire close to U.N. observer posts, and two direct hits inside UNIFIL observer posts.  An Indian peacekeeper was seriously wounded at that time by shrapnel from Israeli tank fire.77  Even if Hezbollah was in the area of the U.N. during these attacks, the IDF apparently did not take adequate care to avoid harm to U.N. personnel.

Peacekeeping forces are not parties to a conflict, even if they are usually professional soldiers.  As long as they do not take part in hostilities, they are entitled to the same protection from attack afforded to civilians. Under customary law, directing attacks against peacekeepers or objects involved in a peacekeeping operation, is prohibited and constitutes a war crime.78  Attacking from next to or near peacekeepers in order to seek immunity from attack is also a war crime.  At the very least, stationing military forces or materiel near a U.N. base violates the duty to take all feasible precautions to avoid harm to noncombatants.79

Killing of At Least 28 Civilians in Qana, July 30

Around 1 a.m. on July 30, Israeli warplanes fired missiles at the village of Qana. Among the homes struck was a three-story building in which sixty-three members of two extended families had sought shelter. The home collapsed and killed at least twenty-eight people.  Sixteen children are among the dead.

Initial reports after the attack put the death toll at fifty-four, which was based on a register of sixty-three persons who had sought shelter in the building that was struck, and the rescue teams’ ability to locate only nine survivors. Human Rights Watch learned after a visit to Qana that at least twenty-two people escaped the basement, and twenty-eight are confirmed dead.  The fate of the remaining thirteen people who hid in the basement is unknown, and village representatives believe they remain buried in the debris.

The civilians from the two families had sought shelter in the house because it was one of the larger buildings in the area and had a reinforced basement, according to the deputy mayor of the town, Dr. Issam Matuni.80

According to Muhammed Mahmoud Shalhoub, a 61-year-old farmer who was in the basement during the attack, sixty-three members of the Shalhoub and Hashim families went to hide in three ground-floor rooms of the three-story building when the first missile landed in the village around 6 p.m. on July 29, he said.  He explained how, around 1 a.m. on July 30, after heavy bombing in the village, an Israeli missile struck the ground floor of the home:

It felt like someone lifted the house. The ground floor of the house is 2.5 meters high. When the first strike hit, it hit below us and the whole house lifted, the rocket hit under the house. I was sitting by the door—it got very dusty and smoky —and we were all in shock. I was not injured and found myself [thrown] outside. There was a lot of screaming inside. When I tried to go back in I couldn’t see because of the smoke. I started pushing people out, whomever I could find.

Five minutes later, another air strike came and hit the other side of the building, behind us. After the second strike, we could barely breathe and we couldn’t see anything. There were three rooms in the house where people were hiding [on the ground floor]. After the first strike, a lot of earth was pushed up into the rooms. We only managed to find some people in the first room.81

Shalhoub vigorously denied that any Hezbollah fighters were present in or around the home when the attack took place. All four roads to Qana village had been cut by Israeli bombs, he said, which would have made it difficult if not impossible for Hezbollah to move rocket launchers into the village.

“If they [the IDF] really saw the rocket launcher, where did it go?” Shalhoub said. “We showed Israel our dead, why don’t the Israelis show us the rocket launchers?” 

Ghazi `Aydaji, another Qana villager, who rushed to the house when it was hit at 1 a.m., gave an account consistent with Shalhoub’s. He and others removed a number of people from the building after the first strike, he said, but they could remove no one else after the second strike hit five minutes later. “If Hezbollah was firing near the house, would a family of over 50 people just sit there?” he said to Human Rights Watch.82

Human Rights Watch researchers visited Qana on July 31, the day after the attack, and did not find any destroyed military equipment in or near the home. None of the dozens of international journalists, rescue workers, and international observers who visited Qana on July 30 and 31 reported seeing any evidence of Hezbollah military presence in or around the home around the time that it was hit.  Rescue workers recovered no bodies of apparent Hezbollah fighters from in or near the building.

After the incident, Israeli government expressed regret over the civilian deaths and said it would conduct an investigation.  Various officials said that Hezbollah fighters were to blame for firing rockets near the building, and the IDF had warned civilians to leave.83

An unnamed senior Israeli air force commander said the military hit the building with a precision-guided bomb because Hezbollah had fired rockets from the area.  When asked how the military knew about the rockets but not the presence of civilians in the building, the commander said the IDF was “capable of detecting missile launches because they are very dynamic,” while the civilians were not seen because they had been hiding in the building for some days.84  His opinion contradicts the testimony of Muhammed Mahmoud Shalhoub, above, who said the families went into the house when the aerial attack began around 6 p.m. on July 29.

On August 1, one of Israel’s top military correspondents, reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz that, while the Israeli Air Force investigation into the incident was ongoing, “questions have been raised over military accounts of the incident.” He elaborated that the IDF had changed its original story and that “it now appears that the military had no information on rockets launched from the site of the building, or the presence of Hezbollah men at the time.”85

As of August 2, the IDF had not publicized any conclusions from its internal military probe and Human Rights Watch continues to call for an international investigation into the incident.

According to lists from the Lebanese Red Cross and Tyre hospital, the confirmed dead as of August 1 are: Husna Hashem, 75; Mahdi Mahmud Hashem, 68; Ibrahim Hashem, 65; Ahmad Mahmud Shalhoub, 55; `Afaf al-Zabad, 45; Nabila `Ali Amin Shalhoub, 40; Tayssir `Ali Shalhoub, 39; Khadije `Ali Yussef, 31; Maryam Hassan Mohsen, 30; Lina Muhammad Mahmud Shalhoub, 30; `Ola Ahmad Mahmud Shalhoub, 25; `Ali Ahmad Mahmud Shalhoub, 17; Hussein Ahmad Hashem, 12; Houra’ Muhammad Qassem Shalhoub, 12; `Ali Muhammad Kassem Shalhoub, 10; Ja`far Mahmud Hashem, 10; Qassem Samih Shalhoub, 9; Yahya Muhammad Qassem Shalhoub, 9; Qassem Muhammad Shalhoub, 7; Raqiteh Mahmud Shalhoub, 7; Ibrahim Ahmad Hashem, 7; Yussef Ahmad Mahmud Shalhoub, 6; Zaynab Muhammad `Ali Amin Shalhoub, 6; Fatima Muhammad Hashem, 4; Ali Ahmad Hashem, 3; Zahra’ Muhammad Qassem Shalhoub, 2; Abbas Ahmad Hashem, 9 months; Roukaya Mohammad Hashem, age unknown.

[6] Stephen Farrell, “More Innocent Blood is Shed as Israel Steps Up Offensive,” The Times (London), July 28, 2006.

[7] IDF, “Warnings dropped to Protect Southern Lebanese Civilians,” July 19, 2006.

[8] CNN, “The Situation Room,” broadcast of July 19, 2006.

[9] Human Rights Watch interview with relative of Marwahin convoy victim, name withheld, Beirut, July 27, 2006.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Sabrina Tavernise, “Christians Fleeing Lebanon Denounce Hezbollah,” Beirut, July 27, 2006.

[12] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with and official from Ain Ebel, Beirut, July 28, 2006

[13] Human Rights Watch interview with Fatima Musa, Beirut, July 22, 2006.

[14] Human Rights Watch interview with Fatima Musa, Beirut, July 22, 2006, Human Rights Watch interview with Mustafa Mohammed Eid, Beirut, July 23, 2006, and Human Rights Watch interview with Abd’el Hassan Ibrahim Najdi, Beirut, July 23, 2006.

[15] IDF, “The IDF Targets in Southern Lebanon,” July 13, 2006

[16] Human Rights Watch interview with Fatima Musa, Beirut, July 22, 2006.

[17] Human Rights Watch interview with Omar Mohammed Ahmed, Beirut, July 21, 2006.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed Roz, Beirut, July 22, 2006 and Human Rights Watch interview with Ali Roz, Beirut, July 22, 2006.

[20] Ibid.  The bodies of the two Kuwaiti nationals were removed to Kuwait for burial, while those of the Zein family were buried in Tyre.

[21] Human Rights Watch interview with Lebanese human rights activist who requested anonimity, July 25, 2006.

[22] “Petit déjeuner tragique pour 12 membres d’une même famille de Zebqine,” Agence France-Presse, July 13, 2006.

[23] Human Rights Watch interview with Hashem Kazan, Beirut, July 23, 2006.

[24] Human Rights Watch interview with witness, name withheld, July 23, 2006.

[25] Human Rights Watch interview with Hashem Kazar, Beirut, July 27, 2006.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview with Ali Rizak, Beirut, July 22, 2006.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Hassan Alawiye, Beirut, July 24, 2006.

[30] Human Rights Watch interview with Zakariya Mohammed Abbas, Beirut, July 25, 2006 and Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Hassan Alawiye, Beirut, July 24, 2006.

[31] Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Hassan Alawiye, Beirut, July 24, 2006.

[32] Human Rights Watch interview with Zakariya Mohammed Abbas, Beirut, July 25, 2006.

[33] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Hussain Mafouz, Beirut, July 25, 2006.

[34] Government of Israel, press release, July 19, 2006.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul Raouf Gradi, civil defense official, Tyre, August 1, 2006.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with Zakaria `Alamedin, Beirut, July 22, 2006 and Human Rights Watch interview with Abed Al-Mohsein, Beirut, July 22, 2006.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview with high-ranking civil defense official, Beirut, July 28, 2006;  Human Rights Watch interview with Zakaria `Alamedin, Beirut, July 22, 2006

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with Zakaria `Alamedin, Beirut, July 22, 2006.

[39] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Official in Tyre Public Hospital, Beirut, July 29, 2006.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul Raouf Gradi, civil defense official, Tyre, August 1, 2006.

[41] A journalist who has entered the building also informed Human Rights Watch that he saw what he believed was human remains trapped in the rubble on the collapsed top floors of the building.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with high-ranking civil defense official, Beirut, July 28, 2006.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with civil defense official, Tyre, August 1, 2006.

[44] Article 62 Additional Protocol 1to the Geneva Conventions.

[45] Aricle65 Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions.

[46] Carrying out “acts harmful to the enemy” under cover of the protected status of civil defense would be a war crime.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with high-ranking civil defense official, Beirut, July 28, 2006.

[48] IDF Spokesperson announcement, “Summary of IDF operations in Lebanon for the 16th of July 2006.”

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Hassan Alawiye, Beirut, July 23, 2006.

[50] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, July 29, 2006.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Hassan Alawiye, Beirut, July 23, 2006.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Mustafa Mohammed Aid, Beirut, July 24, 2006.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Qassim Mustafa Nazal, Srifa, July 31, 2006.

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Hussain Nazal, Srifa, July 31, 2006.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with Mustafa Mohammed Aid, Beirut, July 24, 2006.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammed Khalil Faqi and Human Rights Watch interview with Mahmud Khalil Faqi, Beirut, July 22, 2006.

[58] Human Rights Watch interview with Isam Kaour, Beirut, July 24, 2006.

[59] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, name withheld, July 29, 2006.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with Hussain Nazal, Srifa, July 31, 2006.

[61] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with IDF spokesperson Ron Roman, July 23, 2006.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with Maryam al-Khaled (sister of Dawood al-Khaled), Beirut, July 26, 2006. 

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmed Ali, Beirut, July 22, 2006; see also Human Rights Watch press release, “Israeli Cluster Munitions Hit Civilians in Lebanon,” July 24, 2006.

[64] Human Rights Watch interview with Akram Nimer Ibrahim, Beirut, July 28, 2006.

[65] Human Rights Watch interviews with Fatima Turmus and other family members, Beirut, July 22, 2006.

[66] Ibid.

[67] UNIFIL, press release, July 26, 2006.

[68] Ibid.

[69] “Secretary-General Shocked by Coordinated Israeli Attack on United Nations Observer Post in Lebanon, Which Killed Two Peacekeepers,” United Nations Department of Public Information press release, July 25, 2006.  The death toll was later raised to four.

[70] “Regarding the UN Post Near Al Khiyam,” IDF Spokesperson Announcement, July 26, 2006.

[71] Ravi Nessman, “Report: U.N. Observers’ Calls Unheeded,” Associated Press, July 26. 2006.

[72] Warren Hoge, “U.N. Says it Protested to Israel for Six Hours During Attack the Killed 4 Observers in Lebanon,” New York Times, July 27, 2006, and “Annan would have preferred joint probe with Israel into attack on UN post – letter,” U.N Press Center, July 31, 2006.

[73] UNIFIL, press release, July 25, 2006.

[74] UNIFIL, press release, July 17, 2006

[75] UNIFIL, press release, July 20, 2006.

[76] UNIFIL, press release, July 17, 2006.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Article 8(2)(b)(iii).

[79] On July 20, UNIFIL reported that Hezbollah had fired from the immediate vicinity of U.N. positions in Naqura and Marun al-Ras, which prompted an IDF response.  (UNIFIL press release, July 20, 2006.)  On July 25, Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of four U.N. positions at `Alma ash Sha`ab, Tebnine, Brashit, and At Tiri.  (UNIFIL press release, July 26, 2006.)

[80] Al-Jazeera interview with Dr. Issam Matuni, July 30, 2006.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammed Mahmoud Shalhoub, Qana, July 31, 2006.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Ghazi `Aydaji, Qana, July 21, 2006.

[83] “Israel Halts Airstrikes After Qana Outrage, Agence France-Presse, July 31, 2006.

[84] Dean Yates, “Israel Regrets Qana Killing but Vows to Press War,” Reuters, July 30, 2006.

[85] Yoav Stern, Yuval Yoaz and Amos Harel, “Livni: Qana Attack Led to Turning Point in Support for Israel,” Ha’aretz online edition, August 1, 2006, available at, as of August 1, 2006..

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