Israel rejects Amnesty International criticism

Human rights organization demands war crimes investigation.

The Foreign Ministry slammed an Amnesty International report published Wednesday charging that Israel had deliberately destroyed civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and demanding an international investigation for what it termed war crimes. The 20-page report, the first comprehensive one issued by the human rights organization on the subject of the recent war, accused Israel of "indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks" which displaced one quarter of the civilian population. The report alleges that "Israel's destruction of thousands of homes, and strikes on numerous bridges and roads as well as water and fuel storage plants, was an integral part of Israel's military strategy in Lebanon, rather than "collateral damage‚ resulting from the lawful targeting of military objectives." That strategy, in Amnesty's assessment of Israeli official statements, was carried out in part in order to turn civilians against Hizbullah. The report noted that any Hizbullah use of civilians as a means of shielding their activities constituted a war crime. But, it said, "under international law such use does not release the opposing party from its obligations towards the protection of the civilian population." It calculated that more than 1,000 civilians died, some 7,000 strikes had been carried out by the Israeli Air Force, 15,000 residences had been destroyed and at least two hospitals wiped out. The report concluded by calling for an impartial international investigation, saying that Lebanon had never been known to carry out a review of allegations of war crimes, while Israeli efforts had "fallen short of the standards required." Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev rejected the assertions contained in the report, saying that Israel steps were taken in self-defense and that any targeting of civilians areas were also being used by Hizbullah, making such attacks "very clearly" legal according to international law. "It's not serious," Regev said of the report, "because you have to discuss the scope of the attacks on Israel." The report does not devote any of its several sections to Hizbullah rocket attacks on northern Israel or any of its other actions, though Claudio Cordone, senior director for research at Amnesty, said those subjects would be addressed in future reports. He added that by Israel's argument about acceptable civilians targets, one could suggest that Hizbullah attacks on northern Israel were reasonable because some roads and regions there were used by the military. Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman, however, took issue with Amnesty's decision to focus its first major report on the conflict on alleged Israeli abuses, when Hizbullah had started the war. "They continue the pattern of biased, prejudiced, bigoted, one-sided judgments on the Israeli-Arab conflict. It's part and parcel of putting the blame on Israel," he said. Cordone countered that, "There is less controversy about the abuses committed by Hizbullah, whereas there hasn't been sufficient attention to this kind of attack," referring to the alleged Israeli strategy of targeting civilian areas. Cordone added that, "For those who, like Israel, have argued they've done everything according to the rules of war, they should have nothing to fear from a proper, impartial investigation, which is what we're seeking." But Foxman said this report would create a stigma that other reports wouldn't change. Foxman, speaking during a tour of the North where he saw the damage of the Katyushas firsthand, charged that the approach of Amnesty bordered on the anti-Semitic. He said the civilian losses on both sides were "tragic." But, he continued: "Who's the judge of what's disproportionate, what's overkill? Amnesty International? Give me a break," he said. "We don't need to be scapegoated by a group that pretends to [represent] civility and justice."