A think tank with strong ties to the IDF has compiled a thick dossier of evidence accusing Hizbullah of using civilians as human shields during the war in Lebanon - a study the authors say can be used to rebuff war crime allegations over Israel's pummeling of residential areas. The study was prepared by a team led by military intelligence expert Reuven Ehrlich, a retired lieutenant colonel who now heads the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The private think tank, which maintains an office at the Defense Ministry, compiled the report in conjunction with lawyers from the army and Foreign Ministry.
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"I think it could offer a response to allegations of human rights organizations on why the Israel Defense Forces operated in civilian areas," Ehrlich said.
IAF aircraft and artillery killed more than 850 Lebanese, most of them civilians, during the 34-day conflict. Lebanon, a UN human rights agency and international rights groups have accused Israel of war crimes, though no formal charges have been filed.
Hizbullah, which touched off the conflict by capturing two IDF soldiers in a cross-border raid, battered northern Israel with nearly 4,000 rockets during the month-long war, killing 39 civilians and 120 soldiers.
Israel has maintained that its attacks against Hizbullah targets in populated areas did not violate international law, claiming that Hizbullah deliberately operated within civilian areas, which raised the civilian death toll.
The 300-page report, obtained by The Associated Press days before its scheduled release, seeks to bolster these claims. It includes documents, photos and video footage - billed as declassified, though much of it is similar to information that has appeared on TV newscasts and the Foreign Ministry Web site.
The report says Hizbullah operated from civilian areas to deter the IDF and gain a propaganda advantage. Guerrillas stashed weapons in hundreds of private homes and mosques, had fighters transporting missiles closely follow ambulances, and fired rockets near UN monitoring posts, the report says.
It also includes aerial photographs of what its authors say are Hizbullah bases, weapons and ammunition stores hidden within civilian population centers in south Beirut, southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley.
The use of human shields has implications beyond the Lebanon war, because other groups in the Mideast are doing the same, Ehrlich said.
"It is a phenomenon relevant to Israel's confrontation with Hizbullah in Lebanon and in Gaza, and is something the US and others working against terror have to grapple with," he said.
So far, no legal action has been taken against Israel in connection with its wartime actions, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
But ministry lawyers have prepared to defend government officials or military officers, should they be indicted.
Three chapters in the report by Ehrlich's team could be used to build an Israeli case, if necessary, said Danny Grossman, Israel director of the American Jewish Congress, which was involved in the report's conception and preparation.
The private rights group Amnesty International and UN human rights experts have accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilian areas and indiscriminate use of cluster bombs, which scatter scores of tiny explosives over an area the size of a football field.