Hezbollah was responsible for numerous serious violations of the laws of war during its conflict with Israel. Its fighters indiscriminately fired thousands of rockets into Israel, killing 43 Israeli civilians (as well as 12 Israeli soldiers), which is documented in a separate Human Rights Watch report, Civilians under Assault.71 Hezbollah also at times endangered Lebanese civilians by failing to take all feasible precautions to avoid firing rockets from populated areas, mixing with the Lebanese civilian population, and storing weapons and ammunition in populated areas. Hezbollah fighters fired rockets on an almost daily basis from the close proximity of UN observer posts in southern Lebanon, an act of shielding, at least in part, that endangered UNIFIL troops by drawing retaliatory Israeli fire on the nearby UN positions. Each of these violations is detailed below.
Human Rights Watch did not find evidence, however, that the deployment of Hezbollah forces in Lebanon routinely or widely violated the laws of war, as repeatedly alleged by Israel. We did not find, for example, that Hezbollah routinely located its rockets inside or near civilian homes. Rather, we found strong evidence that Hezbollah had stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys. Similarly, while we found that Hezbollah fighters launched rockets from villages on some occasions, and may have committed shielding, a war crime, when it purposefully and repeatedly fired rockets from the vicinity of UN observer posts with the possible intent of deterring Israeli counterfire, we did not find evidence that Hezbollah otherwise fired its rockets from populated areas. The available evidence indicates that in the vast majority of cases Hezbollah fighters left populated civilian areas as soon as the fighting started and fired the majority of their rockets from pre-prepared positions in largely unpopulated valleys and fields outside villages.
Israeli officials have made the serious allegation that Hezbollah routinely used human shields to immunize its forces from attack and thus bears responsibility for the high civilian toll in Lebanon. Apart from its position near UN personnel, Human Rights Watch found only a handful of instances of possible shielding behind civilians, but nothing to suggest there was widespread commission of this humanitarian law violation or any Hezbollah policy encouraging such practices. These relatively few cases do not begin to account for the Lebanese civilians who died under Israeli attacks.
When examining the practice of shielding, it is important to distinguish the serious humanitarian law violation of human shieldingthe intentional use of civilians or other protected individuals to shield a military objective from attackfrom the separate violation of endangering the civilian population by unnecessarily carrying out military operations in proximity to populated areas. We documented a number of instances where Hezbollahs actions endangered the civilian population but we did not find evidence that such practices were done with the intent of using civilians as shields.
While not required by the humanitarian law applicable during the conflict, the failure of Hezbollah fighters to wear uniforms or other insignia distinguishing them from the civilian population did doubtlessly place civilians at greater risk. Since Hezbollah fighters regularly appeared in civilian clothes, Israeli forces would have had difficulty distinguishing between fighters and other male, fighting-age civilians, and such difficulty increased the dangers of IDF operations to the civilian population of Lebanon. However, the failure of Hezbollah fighters to consistently distinguish themselves as combatants does not relieve Israeli forces of their obligation to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians and to target only combatants.
Hezbollah is a multifaceted militant Shi`ite political organization, whose activities in Lebanon extend far beyond military confrontation with Israel. Hezbollah is often described as a state within a state in Lebanon. It is represented in the Lebanese Parliament and in many municipalities throughout Lebanon, and enjoys genuine grassroots support in most of the Shi`a south, Beiruts Shi`a dominated southern suburbs, and Shi`a villages in the Beka` Valley adjoining Syria. Hezbollah is also responsible for extensive social and welfare programs focused on Shi`a communities in Lebanon and operates its own businesses; many Shi`a clerics in Lebanon openly support Hezbollah. Support for Hezbollah in Lebanon is far from universal even within the Shi`a community. Many Lebanese are suspicious of Hezbollahs religious roots and its links to Syria and Iran and would prefer if Hezbollah disarmed or if its military wing was incorporated into the Lebanese army.
Although Hezbollah operates openly as a militant political organization, the activities of its military wing, the Islamic Resistance (al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya), are shrouded in secrecy.72 That secrecy itself serves an important military purpose for Hezbollah, as Hezbollah knows that Israel has relied extensively on intelligence and infiltration of militant groups and targeted strikes against militant leaders. In closely guarding any information about its military strategy, Hezbollah limits Israels ability to target its leaders, members, and military installations. This strategy of secrecy significantly affected Israels ability to target Hezbollah from the air, as Israel often lacked the intelligence information to target Hezbollah personnel and installations.
Hezbollahs fighters adhere to a strict code of silence and carefully guard their military information. During the 2006 war, Hezbollahs fighters gave almost no interviews to foreign or local reporters, often simply walking away without comment when approached by journalists. No local or foreign correspondentsnot even those seen as sympathetic to Hezbollahaccompanied Hezbollah fighters during military operations.
Hezbollah enjoys considerable popular support from the Shi`a rural population of southern Lebanon in particular, but also in other Shi`a parts of Lebanon, including the Beka` Valley and the southern suburbs of Beirut. Although many Shi`as in Lebanon support political organizations other than Hezbollah, including Amal and the Lebanese Communist Party, many Shi`as in Lebanon as well as many Lebanese from other confessional groups support Hezbollah as a resistance organization to Israel and credit its armed activities with ending Israels long occupation of southern Lebanon (1978-2000).73 The extent of both Hezbollahs support and its control is evident in the prominent displays of Hezbollah flags in almost every Shi`a village in southern Lebanon, and the martyr posters depicting Hezbollah and Amal fighters who have died in battles with Israel lining main streets. At the same time, many LebaneseShi`a, Sunni, Christian, Druze, and nonsectarianare deeply opposed to Hezbollah, considering Hezbollah a tool of Syrian and Iranian influence, and accusing Hezbollah of drawing all of Lebanon into regular and unnecessary conflict with Israel.
Human Rights Watch documented a number of cases where Hezbollah violated the laws of war by storing weapons and ammunition in populated areas and making no effort to remove the civilians under their control from the area. Humantarian law requires warring parties to take all feasible precautions to protect civilian populations in areas under their control from the affects of attacks.74 This includes avoiding deploying military targets such as weapons and ammunition in densely populated areas,75 and when this is not possible, removing civilians from the vicinity of military objectives.76 As one commentator writes:
Intentionally using civilians to protect a military objective from attack would be shielding.
On July 13, at around 4:05 a.m., an Israeli air strike on the village of Bar`ashit demolished the home of Najib Hussain Farhat, a lottery card seller, and the unoccupied neighboring home of his brother, who had moved to Beirut in 1996. The air strike killed Najib, 54, and his 16-year-old daughter, Zainab, and severely injured his wife, son, and daughter. According to a well-informed source in the village, Hezbollah had rented the basement of the unoccupied home and had enlarged it into a warehouse to store large numbers of weapons. Neither Hezbollah nor Najibs relatives had informed Najib about the Hezbollah weapons cache next door, so he had not felt the need to evacuate his home when war broke out. The surviving relatives complained to Hezbollah officials about this incident, and they were met first with denials and then with threats from Hezbollah that it would withhold compensation to the family if they spoke out publicly:
Some of the most serious allegations of Hezbollah placing weapons inside populated civilian areas emerged from the Sunni border village of Marwahin. According to the villagers of Marwahin, they began having problems with Hezbollah fighters and weapons infiltrating their village almost as soon as the war started. One witness described how two Hezbollah fighters, one dressed in military camouflage and a second in civilian clothes, came to Marwahin on July 12, the day of the abduction of the two IDF soldiers, and began scouting the village. An Israeli helicopter was overhead, looking for Hezbollah targets. One witness told Human Rights Watch that Zahra Abdullah, 52, one of the women who later died in a July 15 Israeli strike, shouted at the fighters to leave, saying that if they were spotted, the helicopter would attack the village.79
The Hezbollah fighters ignored her, the witness said, and returned later that day with a white van packed with weapons. They parked it next to the village mosque, where it remained until it was destroyed by an Israeli strike.80 Unknown to the villagers, Hezbollah had also placed a large cache of rockets and other weapons in the home of a villager who was sympathetic to Hezbollah (the weapons cache was destroyed in an Israeli air strike).81 Following the war, Human Rights Watch researchers found both the destroyed van and the destroyed weapons cache in the home, both still carrying the remains of rockets, rocket propelled grenades, and other weaponry. The storage of arms in a populated area endangered civilians in violation of the international humanitarian law requirement that Hezbollah take all feasible precautions to spare civilians during the armed conflict. However, Human Rights Watch was unable to discover evidence shedding light on whether that was done with the intent to use civilians to render the weapons immune from attack as would be required to make a legal case of shielding.
Similarly, Hezbollahs actions in the village again endangered civilians three days following the initial incident on July 12. On July 15, around 7 or 8 a.m., according to her surviving relatives, Zahra Abdullah told them that she spotted three Hezbollah fighters carrying weapons and rockets behind her home, hiding the weapons in blue blankets. She again confronted the fighters, telling them, Please, there are kids inside this home. One of the Hezbollah fighters turned his automatic weapon on Zahra, and told her to shut up and go inside. Zahra returned to her home, crying.82 That day, many villagers fled from Marwahin following Israeli orders to evacuate the village. Twenty-three fleeing civilians from Marwahin, including Zahra Abdullah, were killed in an Israeli air strike on their convoy (see below).
Human Rights Watch has also received credible information that Hezbollah stored weapons in civilian areas in the southern suburbs of Beirut. One southern suburb resident told Human Rights Watch she visited a weapons storage facility on the second floor of an apartment building in the southern suburb of the Dahieh.83 The same resident said that she witnessed Hezbollah transfering some of the weapons to a bomb shelter beneath a building where civilians had sought refuge. The Hezbollah militants covered the weapons with sheets, with the help of some of the civilians sheltering in the basement. According to the same witness, Hezbollah fighters also took shelter with the civilians in the basement.84 The use of a civilian shelter in this manner at least endangers civilians in violation of the requirements of international humanitarian law and suggests an intent to use civilians as a shield against attack.
Human Rights Watch has no evidence to suggest that the placement of such weapons caches and Hezbollah fighters in Dahieh was systematic or widespread. In those instances Hezbollah stored weapons and deployed fighters in such a densely populated neighborhood, it was committing a serious violation of the laws of war, and if it purposefully used civilians to forestall Israeli attacks, was committing shielding. While Israel would have been justified in attacking the Hezbollah weapons caches and sheltering Hezbollah fighters, it remained under an obligation to ensure that its attacks were not indiscriminate or disproportionateor to cancel the attack. Even in light of the evidence of a Hezbollah military presence in the Dahieh, Israels massive destruction of the area was certainly both indiscriminate and disproportionate.
In the 94 incidents involving civilian deaths that Human Rights Watch investigated, we found evidence in only one case involving civilian deaths that Hezbollah weapons were stored in the building. Rather, it appears from our interviews and a review of publicly available reports on Hezbollahs military strategy that Hezbollah had stored most of its weapons and ammunition, notably rockets, in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in the fields and the valleys surrounding villages.
Nicholas Blanford, the Beirut-based correspondent for The Times of London, The Christian Science Monitor, and Time magazine, described how Hezbollah prepared extensive fighting positions in rural, largely unpopulated areas of southern Lebanon:
A few months after the war, Blanford and a team of BBC journalists separately located and entered some of the Hezbollah bunkers in southern Lebanon, finding them undamaged from the war.86 A number of villagers confirmed to Human Rights Watch the establishment of bunkers in areas off-limits to them. In the village of `Ain Ebel, villagers told Human Rights Watch that Hezbollah started digging in 2000 in the fields behind the village and had placed a number of fields adjacent to the village off limits to the local villagers.87
Hezbollah never denied its extensive preparations for war. In August 2006, at the end of the conflict, Shaikh Na`im Qassem, the deputy secretary-general of Hezbollah, told al-Manar television that over the past six years, we have been working day and night to prepare, equip, and train because we never trusted this enemy [Israel].88
In most southern Lebanese villages visited by Human Rights Watch, local villagers consistently stated that Hezbollah fighters had not fired rockets from within the village, but from nearby fields and orchards, or from more remote uninhabited valleys. On a few occasions, Human Rights Watch was able to establish through eyewitness interviews that Hezbollah fighters did fire directly from inhabited villages, a practice that would have put the civilian population of those villages at great risk of Israeli counterfire. While international humanitarian law recognizes that fighting from or near populated areas is permissible if there are no feasible alternatives, Hezbollah did have alternatives when it fired from inside villages in the [majority] of cases examined by Human Rights Watch. This is evidenced by the fact that Hezbollah had bunkers and positions outside villages and was able to actually use them a great deal of the time.
Human Rights Watch was able to confirm a number of cases where Hezbollah fighters fired from inside populated areas of villages, possibly drawing deadly retaliatory Israeli strikes that caused civilian casualties. On July 18, at 12:45 at night, an Israeli air strike hit two civilian homes in the center of `Aitaroun, killing nine members of the `Awada family.89 According to surviving members of the family,90 Hezbollah fighters had been firing rockets at Israel from approximately 100 to 150 meters away from their home around 10:15 p.m. that night (2½ hours prior to the Israeli strike). Some of the members of the `Awada family had already abandoned another home on the outskirts of `Aitaroun because Hezbollah had been firing rockets from nearby that home:
We were sleeping; it was about 12:45 at night. Some were in the shelter, but we were in our home, said Manal Hassan `Alawiyya, a neighbor. 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.92 The strike killed nine members of the `Awada family: Hassan Mahmud `Awada, age 43, a shoemaker and clothes shop owner; his son Hussain Hassan `Awada, three; his sister Jamila Mahmud `Awada, 45; his sisters husband, Musa Naif `Awada, 45, a schoolteacher; and their five children `Ali Musa `Awada, 17; `Abir Musa `Awada, 16; Hassan Musa `Awada, 12; Maryam Musa `Awada, 10; and Muhammad Musa `Awada, six. Thirteen other occupants of the home survived, including six children and five women. None of the people in the house had any connection to Hezbollah.
According to a villager from `Aitaroun, most of the civilians fled `Aitaroun after Hezbollah began to fire rockets from inside the village and the deadly Israeli air strikes on the two homes in the village on July 16 and 17: When our house was hit, almost all of the civilians left the village. Hezbollah continued to fire rockets from inside the village.93
Human Rights Watch also established that Hezbollah fighters fired rockets nearby homes in the mixed Christian-Shi`a village of Yaroun, located just one kilometer north of the Israeli border. A witness from the village showed Human Rights Watch researchers the center of Yaroun, which Israeli strikes had virtually completely destroyed, and explained:
However, in most cases investigated by Human Rights Watch, Hezbollah fighters located themselves and their weapons outside populated areas, at positions often prepared years in advance of the conflict, and had only a fleeting presence in populated areas. A young Hezbollah fighter in Zebqine village explained that Hezbollah militants had prepared the infrastructurecaves to store rockets and launchers, access roads, and launching sitesin the rural valleys surrounding Zebqine for the past six years, and had pre-positioned the rocket launchers and rockets in these positions before the war:
On one occasion, he said, a truck carrying Hezbollah militants in Zebqine had mounted at least one rocket launcher on a Mitsubishi truck, and during the war the truck broke down inside Zebqine as Hezbollah was moving the mobile rocket launcher from one valley to another, passing through the village. Israeli drones quickly located the missile launcher, and warplanes launched an immediate strike, destroying the truck and four nearby empty residences: The rocket launcher was just being moved from one valley to the other, he explained.96
According to villagers and officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Hezbollah fighters stayed mostly outside the villages during the war, firing their rockets from the pre-prepared positions outside the villages. (Hezbollah fighters did confront Israeli troops on the ground when the Israeli troops entered Lebanon near the end of the war, after most civilians in the area had fled; some of the fiercest and deadliest fighting involved ground combat in the border villages of Maroon al-Ras, Bint Jbeil and `Aita al-Sha`ab.)
According to the former mukhtar of Hadatha, Hajj Abduljalil Salman Nasr, who remained in his village until the initial 48-hour ceasefire on July 31, 2007 and is not associated with Hezbollah, the village leadership had prohibited Hezbollah fighters from entering his village, and so Hezbollah had fought from prepared positions in the surrounding valleys:
A Hezbollah logistics and communications officer who remained in Hadatha throughout the war and participated in the fighting in the area supported the mukhtars version of events. He told Human Rights Watch: We were firing rockets from outside the villages. We did not fire one missile from a civilian area [in Hadatha]. However, when the direct confrontations took place, the fighting did take place between the houses. There were two houses in the village where we would go to bake bread.98
In the village of al-Jibbain, located just north of the Israeli border, 81-year-old `Ali Muhammad `Akil, a tobacco farmer, told Human Rights Watch about the Hezbollah fighters and rocket positions around his village. He explained that Hezbollah fighters did move through his village on occasion during the war, but that he had not seen them fire rockets from the village:
The circumstances surrounding the deaths of four Hezbollah fighters in al-Jibbainthe only fighters killed in that villagelend support for `Akils description of their activities. On August 3 or 4, an Israeli air strike killed four Hezbollah fighters (Hassan Sami Musalamani, `Ali Sami Musalamani, Hassan Ahmad `Akil, and `Abbas Ahmad `Akil) in an uninhabited valley some 900 meters from the nearest homes, apparently as they were firing rockets at Israel. Human Rights Watch researchers tried to visit the area where the four militants were killed, but a municipal official (who consulted with a Hezbollah commander on his mobile phone) prevented them from doing so until the site could be cleaned up.99
The case of the village of `Ain B`al is a typical example. According to a villager of `Ain B`al, We told [Hezbollah] not to fire from our town, and they agreed and fired from the orchards.100 A second villager from `Ain B`al, Hussain `Ali Kiki, told Human Rights Watch how a cluster bomb injured his legs and killed his friend, `Ali Muhammad Abu `Eid, after the war when they returned to their orchard between Batulay and Ras al-`Ain (villages adjacent to `Ain B`al). He described the presence of Hezbollah rocket launching pads in the nearby fields:
Human Rights Watch found similar cases of rocket launcher locations throughout the vast banana and citrus groves located along the coast south of Tyre. In the village of Mansouri, Hezbollah militants had fired rockets from banana plantations located along the coast; Israeli return fire resulted in the destruction of a beachside home occupied by the militants and damage to nearby civilian structures, including a private guesthouse.102 In the village of QuLaila, just north of Mansouri, an unexploded Israeli cluster bomb injured the foot of 49-year-old Salih Ramez Karashet in his citrus orchard. He explained that Hezbollah had used his orchard to fire rockets: There was definitely a military objective in the orchards. When we returned to the orchards [after the war], we found the remains of Hezbollah rocket launchers and exploded rockets.103 On August 6, IDF commandos raided a building on the outskirts of Tyre that a Hezbollah team occupied, firing long-range rockets from nearby citrus groves into Israel. The raid killed at least two Hezbollah fighters, but the launching of long-range rockets continued from those same citrus orchards until the end of the war.104
Israels own firing patterns in Lebanon support the conclusion that Hezbollah fired large numbers of its rockets from tobacco fields, banana, olive and citrus groves, and more remote, unpopulated valleys. Throughout southern Lebanon, Israel subjected such agricultural areas to heavy bombardment with 155mm and 77mm artillery rounds, as well as with M-26 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) with M77 submunitions, a form of cluster weapon designed specifically to suppress, neutralize, and destroy launch locations. Israeli radar was able to locate some Hezbollah launch locations after a rocket was airborne, allowing IDF artillery teams to respond with artillery rounds and M77 submunition fire as an area-effect weapon, in an attempt to kill the launch crews as they escaped and to disable the rocket launcher itself. A large number of the groves and agricultural lands contaminated by duds and marked by artillery impact rounds from such strikes were located at least at the periphery of populated areas, although other suspected Hezbollah launching sites targeted by artillery and M77 cluster rounds were in much more remote and uninhabited valleys.
During and immediately after the war, Hezbollah cleared up a number of military sites that Israel had hit, removing destroyed rocket launchers and other weapons evidence. According to a top international demining official in Lebanon, We did find a couple of Katyusha [rocket launchers] while cleaning up, but Hezbollah has generally cleaned things up themselves.105
Israeli officials have repeatedly accused Hezbollah of using the Lebanese civilian population as human shields by deploying their forcesfighters, weapons, and equipmentin civilian areas for the purpose of deterring IDF attack. On many occasions, Israeli officials blamed these alleged shielding practices as the primary cause for Lebanese civilian deaths. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website carries a typical statement:
Similarly, in response to the July 30 Israeli Air Force strike on the village of Qana that killed 27 people, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz blamed Hezbollah for the deadly incident, stating The Hezbollah organization places Lebanese civilians as a defensive shield between itself and us while the IDF places itself as a defensive shield between the citizens of Israel and Hezbollahs terror. That is the principal difference between us.107 On July 19, 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.108 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.109
As discussed in the legal chapter of this report (see above), the laws of war specifically prohibit the use of civilians as human shields to prevent the enemy from attacking:
A key element of the humanitarian law violation of shielding is intention: the purposeful use of civilians to render military objectives immune from attack.
As noted above, we documented cases where Hezbollah stored weapons inside civilian homes or fired rockets from inside populated civilian areas. At minimum, that violated the legal duty to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians the hazards of armed conflict, and in some cases it suggests the intentional use of civilians to shield against attack. However, these cases were far less numerous than Israeli officials have suggested. The handful of cases of probable shielding that we did find does not begin to account for the civilian death toll in Lebanon. (The related issue of Hezbollahs illegally using several UN posts near the Lebanon-Israel border as shields is discussed in the next section.)
In addition to its own research, Human Rights Watch carefully reviewed local and international press accounts, IDF and Israeli government statements, and the work of various independent think tanks to evaluate allegations of human shielding by Hezbollah. While the Israeli government and certain commentators have described Hezbollah shielding as widespread, they have not provided convincing evidence to support such allegations.111 The Israeli government provided some video footage taken from drones showing Hezbollah fighters firing rockets from what appear to be civilian structures, or entering such structures, but the footage gives no indication whether these structures were inhabited by civilians or located in then-populated areas.
The Israeli governments allegations seem to stem from an unwillingness to distinguish the prohibition against human shieldingthe intentional use of civilians to shield a military objective from attackfrom that against endangering the civilian population by failing to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm, and even from instances where Hezbollah conducted operations in residential areas empty of civilians. Individuals responsible for shielding can be prosecuted for war crimes; failing to fully minimize harm to civilians is not considered a violation prosecutable as a war crime.112
To constitute shielding, there needs to be a specific intent to use civilians to deter an attack. For example, during the 2003 conflict in Iraq, Human Rights Watch documented the use of human shields by Iraqi forces. Witnesses observed irregular Iraqi armed forces (known as fedayeen) confronting coalition troops with women and children as human shields, lining up women and children in front of their vehicles to prevent coalition troops from attacking them, and placing women and children on their vehicles when attacking coalition positions.113
Many of the allegations of widespread shielding highlight cases that, upon closer examination, do not show that they are said to demonstrate. For example, one of the most widely reported incidents of alleged human shielding by Hezbollah occurred in the village of `Ain Ebel, a Christian town approximately five kilometers from the Israeli border and a former stronghold for the Israeli-backed South Lebanese Army (SLA), a force opposed to Hezbollah.114 Christian villagers fleeing the village of `Ain Ebel complained about Hezbollah tactics, telling the New York Times that Hezbollah came to [our village] to shoot its rockets . . . They are shooting from between our houses.115 Another villager told a blogger that Hezbollah fired at a convoy of fleeing civilians to prevent them from leaving because it wanted to use the civilians of `Ain Ebel as human shields.116
Human Rights Watch visited `Ain Ebel multiple times to investigate these allegations. Our investigation revealed that Hezbollah violated the prohibition against unnecessarily endangering civilians when they took over civilian homes in the populated village, fired rockets close to homes, and drove through the village in at least one instance with weapons in their cars.117 However, the available evidence does not demonstrate human shieldingthe purposeful use of civilians to deter an attackin `Ain Ebel. Hezbollah did not seize any inhabited houses in the village; even witnesses that criticized Hezbollahs behavior agreed that Hezbollah took over only houses that had no one in them.118 While Hezbollah fired rockets from within the village, none of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed that Hezbollah fired from or near homes that were populated at the time, or fled into populated areas of the village after firing their rockets. According to a local villager, Hezbollahs firing took place from fields next to the village that it had taken over after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, and where it had placed bunkers and rocket launchers.119 Hezbollah had prevented villagers from visiting these fields, in part because it feared the villagers might report on its activities.
We also interviewed individuals who were in a convoy that reportedly came under Hezbollah attack, allegedly to keep them from fleeing the village. On July 24,around 9:30a.m., a convoy of 17 cars containing villagers from `Ain Ebel and persons displaced from other neighboring villages came under machine-gun fire as their convoy crossed a hilly area on the immediate outskirts of `Ain Ebel, referred to as Tal Massoud. The area was the scene of earlier machine-gun fire between Hezbollah fighters and Israeli soldiers. Individuals in the convoy told Human Rights Watch that the fire came from the north side of the road, from behind a restaurant named Grand Palace, and that the fire must have come from Hezbollah as Israeli troops had not yet made it to that side of the road.120 The fire hit the first five to six cars in the convoy and injured up to 11 civilians. There were contradictory reports about whether anyone died, with some witnesses stating that no one died, while others thought that a Shi`ite man from `Aitaroun died.121 None of the individuals interviewed saw the men who fired on them.
Despite the gravity of the incident, it is unclear whether Hezbollah fired on the convoy to prevent the villagers from leaving, or whether the villagers were caught in crossfire between Hezbollah and the IDF. Ambulances transferred the wounded to a Hezbollah-run hospital, Salah Ghandur, for treatment; the wounded later walked to Tibnine before ambulances transferred them to safety in Tyre.122 Other cars left `Ain Ebel in the following days without any problems.123
According to almost all of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch throughout Lebanon, Hezbollah fighters and officials evacuated their offices as soon as the conflict began and often warned other occupants in the same building to also evacuate. Even when not warned, militants, as well as residents in pro-Hezbollah neighborhoods or living close to known Hezbollah officials, often evacuated their homes of their own accord, knowing from past Israeli bombing campaigns that Israel would target the homes and offices of Hezbollah officials and militants.
For example, Mukhtar `Adil Amar, the village leader of Mashghara, a mixed Shi`a and Christian village in the southern Beka` Valley, explained to Human Rights Watch: The Hezbollah [members] were not staying in their homes. When the war started, they all left . A house in the lower neighborhood was hit, the house of [a Hezbollah member], but no one died in that strike.124 Michel Habbush, a Christian worker at the electricity company in Mashghara, confirmed the Mukhtars account in a separate interview:
Human Rights Watch did not document any cases where Hezbollah fighters returned to their home villages with the intention of using a civilian presence to shield themselves from attack. While many Hezbollah fighters, often fighting near their own villages, remained in contact with their families and sometimes visited them, and while several Hezbollah fighters died together with civilians in Israeli strikes on villages, in the cases we examined, eyewitnesses told us that the fighters were killed while checking on or assisting villagers.
Although Human Rights Watch found only a limited number of cases where Hezbollah fighters fired weapons from populated civilian areas, there is strong evidence to suggest that Hezbollah fired much more frequently from the vicinity of UN outposts in southern Lebanon. According to reliable UNIFIL records, Hezbollah fighters fired rockets on an almost daily basis from close proximity to UN observer posts in southern Lebanon, often drawing retaliatory Israeli fire on the nearby UN positions as a result. There are two likely motives for this conduct, which are not mutually exclusive. On the one hand, the hills on which most observation posts are located are also good places from Hezbollahs perspective for firing on Israel. On the other hand, Hezbollah commanders may have at times selected those positions for firing because the presence of UN personnel made it more difficult for Israel to counterattack. Insofar as the latter consideration motivated Hezbollah combatants, that would constitute shielding.
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 protections under the laws of war afforded to civilians and other non-combatants.126 Deploying military forces or materiel near a UN base or outpost would violate at the very least the duty to take all feasible precautions to avoid harm to noncombatants if there were feasible alternatives. Intentionally using the presence of peacekeepers to make ones forces immune from attack amounts to human shielding.127
The UNIFIL statements issued during the conflict demonstrate that Hezbollah fighters fired from the vicinity of UN positions on a near daily basis and that this frequency increased as the fighting intensified.128
As noted above, Hezbollah should take immediate steps to ensure that this illegal conduct is not replicated in any future conflict.150
On the few occasions that Human Rights Watch researchers encountered Hezbollah fighters in the field during the conflict, those Hezbollah fighters were invariably dressed in civilian clothes, and often had no visible weaponry on them. Especially away from the frontlines, Hezbollah fighters appear to have operated in small cells of fighters, dressed in civilian clothes and maintaining contact with each other as well as Hezbollah fighters in other cells with handheld radios.151 Away from active areas of combat, Hezbollah fighters were normally unarmed, keeping their weapons out of sight until needed. Only during active confrontations with Israeli forces did some Hezbollah fighters, particularly Hezbollahs elite fighters, fight in military uniforms.152
While the humanitarian law applicable during the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah placed no obligation on those participating in the hostilities to wear uniforms,153 the routine appearance of Hezbollah fighters in civilian clothes and their failure to carry their weapons openly put the civilian population of Lebanon at risk. Since Hezbollah fighters regularly appeared in civilian clothes, Israeli forces would have had difficulty distinguishing between fighters and other male, fighting-age civilians, and such difficulty increased the dangers of IDF operations to the civilian population of Lebanon. However, the failure of Hezbollah fighters to consistently distinguish themselves as combatants does not relieve Israeli forces of their obligation to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians and to target only combatants.154 The difficulty of making that distinction does not negate Israels obligation. In cases of doubt, a person must be considered a civilian and not a legitimate military target.155
71 In addition to the deaths, Hezbollah rockets also caused 33 severe injuries, 68 moderate injuries, and 1,388 light injuries among Israeli civilians, and an additional 2,773 Israeli civilians were treated for shock.
72 The deputy secretary general of Hezbollah, Na`im Qassem, credits military secrecy as the key to success to Hezbollahs military strategy. Qassem, Hizbollah: The Story from Within, p. 69-70.
73 Hezbollahs popular support is reflected in the massive turnout for its rallies. Media outlets estimated the attendance at Hezbollahs Victory Rally on September 22, 2006 in the hundreds of thousands.
74 See Protocol I, article 58(c).
75 See Protocol I, article 58(b).
76 See Protocol I, article 58(a).
77 See Protocol I, article 58(a).
78 Human Rights Watch interview (name, place, and date withheld, on file at Human Rights Watch).
79 Human Rights Watch interview (name, place, and date withheld, on file at Human Rights Watch).
81 Human Rights Watch interview (name, place, and date withheld, on file at Human Rights Watch).
82 Human Rights Watch interview (name, place, and date withheld, on file at Human Rights Watch).
83 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Beirut, August 14, 2006.
85 Nicholas Blanford, Hizbollah and the IDF: Accepting New Realities Along the Blue Line, The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 6, Summer 2006; Jonathan Finer, Israeli Soldiers Find a Tenacious Foe in Hizbullah, The Washington Post, August 8, 2006
86 Nicholas Blanford, Inside Hizballahs Hidden Bunkers, Time Magazine, March 29, 2007, http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1604529,00.html (accessed April 3, 2007); Hunting for Hezbollah, BBC This World, May 31, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/this_world/6701117.stm (accessed June 11, 2007).
87 Human Rights Watch interview, (name withheld), `Ain Ebel, August 20, 2006.
88 Interview with al-Manar television, August 17, 2006, cited by Blanford, Hizbollah and the IDF: Accepting New Realities Along the Blue Line, The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies.
89 In our earlier report, Fatal Strikes, Human Rights Watch did not have information about Hezbollah firing from the area. A witness quoted by Human Rights Watch for that report stated To my knowledge, Hezbollah was not operating in the area, but I cant be 100 percent sure because we were sleeping. There is a road near the house that Hezbollah could of course use to move around, but it was late and we were asleep in the shelter. Fatal Strikes, pp. 24-25.
90 This survivor had remained in the border village of `Aitaroun after the attack, and Human Rights Watch was unable to travel to `Aitaroun during the war because of the ongoing fighting in the area. Hence, the information provided by the survivor was not available to Human Rights Watch at the time of the publication of Fatal Strikes.
91 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), `Aitaroun, September 19, 2006.
92 Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Hassan `Alawiyya, Beirut, July 23, 2006.
93 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), `Aitaroun, September 19, 2006.
94 Human Rights Watch interview with villager (name withheld), Yaroun, September 25, 2006.
95 Human Rights Watch interview with Hezbollah militant, Zebqine, September 15, 2006.
96 Human Rights Watch interview with Hezbollah militant, Zebqine, September 15, 2006.
97 Human Rights Watch interview with Hajj Abduljalil Salman Nasr, Hadatha, September 14, 2006.
98 Human Rights Watch interview with Hezbollah officer (name withheld), Hadatha, October 23, 2006.
99 Ibid. The municipal official claimed to Human Rights Watch that there was a danger from unexploded ordinance in the area, but the repeated calls from the Hezbollah official to ensure Human Rights Watch was not proceeding to the attack site strongly suggests that there were destroyed rocket launchers, rockets, or a field position at the site.
100 Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan Muhammed Nasser, `Ain B`al, September 22, 2006.
101 Human Rights Watch interview with Hussain `Ali Kiki, `Ain B`al, September 22, 2006.
102 Human Rights Watch interview with owners of guest house (names withheld), Mansouri, September 2006.
103 Human Rights Watch interview with Salih Ramez Karashet, Hammoud Hospital, Saida, September 22, 2006.
104 Blanford, Hizbollah and the IDF: Accepting New Realities Along the Blue Line, The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies.
105 Human Rights Watch interview with demining official (name withheld), Tyre, September 14, 2006.
106 Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Hizbullahs Exploitation of Lebanese Population Centers and Civilians: Photographic Evidence, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2006/Operation+Change+of+Direction+Video+Clips.htm (accessed October 24, 2006). The video footage presented on the website, of a single incident, does not support such a sweeping statement. The footage in question, moreover, is suggestive but inconclusive even with respect to the specific incident depicted: the video shows Hezbollah fighters firing rockets from buildings, but does not answer the question of whether the buildings were inhabited by civilians at the time or were located in populated areas.
107 IDF Spokesperson, Completion of Inquiry into July 30th Incident in Qana, August 3, 2006, http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?sl=EN&id=7&docid=55484.EN (accessed April 4, 2007).
108 IDF Spokesperson, Warnings dropped to Protect Southern Lebanese civilians, July 19, 2006, http://www1.idf.il/DOVER/site/mainpage.asp?sl=EN&id=7&docid=54602.EN (accessed April 4, 2007).
109 CNN, The Situation Room, broadcast of July 19, 2006, http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0607/19/sitroom.03.html (accessed April 4, 2007).
110 Protocol I, article 51(7); see also Fourth Geneva Convention, article 28.
111 The evidence presented by those arguing Hezbollah engaged in systematic shielding (and that these shielding practices were primarily responsible for the large number of civilian casualties) is often flimsy. For example, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz has offered eight credible news sources that reported incidents of the use of civilian shields by Hezbollah. Alan Dershowitz, What is Human Rights Watch Watching?, Jerusalem Post, August 24, 2006. A close examination of those eight credible news stories provides almost no evidence; several of the news stories simply report second-hand information or the views of people who were not in Lebanon during the conflict. See Aryeh Neier, The Attack on Human Rights Watch, New York Review of Books, November 2, 2006.
112 See, for example, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, article 8(2)(b)(xxiii) (prohibiting use of human shields.)
113 See Human Rights Watch, Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq (Human Rights Watch, 2003), pp. 67-69.
114 See, for example, Sabrina Tavernise, Christians Fleeing Lebanon Denounce Hezbollah, The New York Times, July 28, 2006; Michael Totten, The Siege of Ain Ebel, http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/001361.html (accessed on February 1, 2007); US Newswire, Hezbollah is Using Christian Villages to Shield its Military Operations in Violation of International Law, Says CSI [CSI stands for Christian Solidarity International], August 2, 2006; Mark MacKinnon, Christian villagers have nowhere to run; Caught between warring sides, many stay to protect their historic home, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), August 2, 2006.
115 Tavernise, Christians Fleeing Lebanon Denounce Hezbollah, The New York Times.
116 Totten, The Siege of Ain Ebel.
117 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), `Ain Ebel, August 20, 2006; Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), `Ain Ebel, December 28, 2006.
118 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), `Ain Ebel, August 20, 2006. See also testimony in Totten, The Siege of Ain Ebel.
119 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), `Ain Ebel, August 20, 2006.
120 Human Rights Watch interviews (names withheld), `Ain Ebel, December 28, 2006.
121 Ibid. See also testimony in Totten, The Siege of Ain Ebel, to the effect that no one died in the attack.
122 Human Rights Watch interviews (names withheld), `Ain Ebel, December 28, 2006.
123 Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), `Ain Ebel, December 28, 2006.
124 Human Rights Watch interview with `Adil `Amar, Mukhtar of Mashghara, September 9, 2006.
125 Human Rights Watch interview with Michel Habbush, Mashghara, September 9, 2006.
126 See ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, p. 112.
127 See Protocol I, article 51(7), The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour, or impede military operations.
128 UNIFIL press statements were issued each afternoon during the conflict, and covered the previous 24 hours of the conflict. Hence, the press release of July 20 would cover the period of the afternoon of July 19 up to the afternoon of July 20.
129 UNIFIL, Press Release, July 20, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr04.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
130 UNIFIL, Press Release, July 26, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr010.pdf ((accessed April 4, 2007).
131 UNIFIL, Press Release, July 27, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr011.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
132 UNIFIL, Press Release, July 28, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr012.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
133 UNIFIL, Press Release, July 29, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr013.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
134 UNIFIL, Press Release, July 30, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr014.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
135 UNIFIL, Press Release, July 31, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr015.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
136 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 1, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr016.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
137 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 2, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr017.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
138 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 3, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr018.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
139 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 4, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr019.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
140 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 5, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr020.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
141 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 6, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr021.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
142 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 7, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr022.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
143 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 8, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr023.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
144 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 9, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr024.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
145 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 10, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr025.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
146 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 11, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr026.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
147 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 12, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr027.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
148 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 13, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr028.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
149 UNIFIL, Press Release, August 14, 2006, http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/unifil/pr029.pdf (accessed April 4, 2007).
150 An analysis of IDF attacks on UNIFIL is included in Section VIII, under the subheading Killing of Four UN Observers, Khiam, July 25.
151 See for example, Greg Myre, Wounded Israelis tell of a tough, elusive enemy: Unexpectedly fierce ground battles, The New York Times, August 11, 2006 (quoting an IDF captain who spent four days in Bint Jbeil commenting on Hezbollah: They work in small units or two or three men. They wear civilian clothes. You don't see them, you just see their fire.); Mark MacKinnon, In birthplace of Hezbollah, support builds as bombs fall; Staunch reservists' stay after tourists, bureaucrats flee, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), August 9, 2006 (describing reserve Hezbollah fighters that he met in Baalbek: They carried no obvious weapons, but kept in touch with unseen others over constantly crackling walkie-talkies. Though dressed in civilian clothes, they were Hezbollah security men); Bassem Mroue, AP Blog: Reports From Mideast Conflict, August 12, 2006, Associated Press Newswire (recounting how several Hezbollah members, all in civilian clothes with blue or beige caps and carrying walkie talkies, showed up and asked us to follow them); The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hizballah at War: a Military Assessment, December 2006, p. 5: (In generalbut not exclusivelyHizballahs fighting units were squad-sized elements of seven to 10 men At the lower levels, fighters made use of two-way radios for communication within the villages and between isolated fighting positions.)
152 See for example, Nicholas Blanford, Hezbollah fighters emerge from rubble as refugees defy curfew to head home, The Times (London), August 15, 2006 (describing a Hezbollah fighter: He wore a sweat shirt and khaki-coloured trousers rather than the camouflage uniform normally worn by Hezbollah fighters in the field. Some of his companions wore combat trousers and boots, lending them a paramilitary appearance.)
153 Article 44 of Protocol I provides that to promote the protection of the civilian population from the effects of hostilities, combatants are obliged to distinguish themselves from the civilian population while they are engaged in an attack or in a military operation preparatory to an attack. However, Israel is not a party to Protocol I and article 44 is not considered reflective of customary international law.
154 Protocol I, article 48.
155 Protocol I, article 50(1).