Dec. 5, 2007
Think tank: Hezbollah used human shields
By AMY TEIBEL, Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM - An Israeli think tank with strong links to the
military released videos and testimony Tuesday it said proved
Hezbollah guerrillas used civilians as human shields during last
summer's war in Lebanon.
The report's authors hoped to challenge allegations that
Israel committed war crimes when it attacked residential areas
during the war.
Although no formal war crimes charges have been filed against
either side, Israel has taken the brunt of international
criticism. Israel is especially sensitive about the possibility
of legal action because of previous lawsuits and indictments
abroad against Israeli leaders and military officers.
The 300-page report, compiled by a military intelligence expert
who has an office in the Defense Ministry, argues that Lebanese
government and media reports of the number of civilians killed in
Lebanon were exaggerated.
More than 850 Lebanese, most of them civilians, were killed in
Israeli airstrikes and artillery attacks during the 34-day war,
which began after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli
soldiers in a cross-border raid. The guerrillas bombarded
northern Israel with nearly 4,000 rockets, killing 39 civilians.
Also, 120 Israeli soldiers were killed in the violence.
Israel says its attacks against Hezbollah targets in populated
areas did not violate international law.
The report, first released to The New York Times, said Hezbollah
operated from civilian areas to deter the Israeli military and
gain a propaganda advantage if an Israeli counterattack caused
civilian casualties. Guerrillas stashed weapons in hundreds of
homes and mosques, had missile transports closely follow
ambulances and fired rockets from positions near U.N. monitoring
posts, the report said.
Much of the material was released earlier, but some was recently
declassified, including interviews with Hezbollah prisoners and
aerial photographs showing the Hezbollah buildup in civilian areas.
One video included in the report showed what it identified as a
captive Hezbollah guerrilla telling interrogators how the militia
rented houses in residential areas to secretly store missiles.
"Even the owner of the house, he knows he's giving (the building)
to Hezbollah, they rent it for instance, but its not possible for
him to know what's in it," said the man, identified as
30-year-old Maher Hassan Mahmoud Kourani.
A Hezbollah official dismissed the Israeli report as "totally
untrue," saying it was part of "a campaign to vilify Hezbollah
and justify the unjustified Israeli massacres in Lebanon."
"These allegations are part of Israeli propaganda aimed at
protecting Israel's generals and officials who face accusations
of committing massacres against Lebanese civilians during the
summer war," Hussein Rahhal, Hezbollah's media chief, told The
Associated Press in Lebanon.
Amnesty International said the report did not contain many new
"In terms of the fact that Hezbollah had weapons, tunnels,
militia facilities in villages, no one disputes it. Hezbollah
does not dispute it," said Claudio Cordone, a senior director of
research at Amnesty.
Cordone called for an international inquiry.
The Israeli study was prepared by military intelligence expert
Reuven Ehrlich, a retired lieutenant colonel who heads the
Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, a private think tank.
"I think it could offer a response to allegations of human rights
organizations on why the Israel Defense Forces operated in
civilian areas," he said.
Ehrlich's study, citing Israeli military intelligence, disputes
Lebanese and media accounts of civilian casualties, stating that
at least 450 and as many as 650 of the Lebanese killed were
Three chapters in the report addressing the war crimes issue were
prepared by the Israeli military's legal department in
conjunction with Foreign Ministry lawyers, the report said.
Experience has prepared Israel for the possibility of such charges.
In 2001, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was tried in absentia
in Belgium, though not convicted, in connection with a 1982
massacre in Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut.
Critics who have accused Israel of war crimes in Palestinian
territories have sought to arrest Israeli military officers
overseas, and some have only narrowly escaped incarceration.
Since 2000, several European countries including Britain and
Belgium have given war crimes cases "momentum across the
continent," Human Rights Watch said in a recent report.
Complaints have been filed against military chief Lt. Gen. Dan
Halutz and his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, in connection
with a 2002 airstrike that killed a Hamas leader and 14 others,
nine of them children.
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