LONDON, (Reuters) – Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah committed war crimes in its conflict with Israel by targeting civilians with rockets packed with metal ball bearings, rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday.
It said around a quarter of the nearly 4,000 rockets that Hezbollah launched into Israel during the 34-day war were fired directly into urban areas.
“The scale of Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli cities, towns and villages, the indiscriminate nature of the weapons used and statements from the leadership confirming their intent to target civilians make it all too clear that Hezbollah violated the laws of war,” Amnesty’s Secretary-General Irene Khan said.
“The fact that Israel has also committed serious violations in no way justifies violations by Hezbollah,” she said in a statement. “Civilians must not be made to pay the price for unlawful conduct on either side.”
Hezbollah parliamentarian Hassan Fadlallah said that by criticising Hezbollah’s actions alongside those of Israel, Amnesty “has tried to equate the executioner with the victim”.
Fadlallah said Hezbollah was exercising “its legitimate right of self-defence”. At the start of the war it had targeted only Israeli military sites, he said, but later fired at Israeli towns in response to Israeli strikes.
“We urge Amnesty International to make a simple comparison between the number of women and child victims in Lebanon … and in Israel,” he said.
In its report, Amnesty dismissed Hezbollah statements that their rocket attacks on northern Israel were a reprisal for Israeli attacks on civilians in Lebanon. “This line is totally rejected by Amnesty International,” it said.
Nearly 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon during the war, the great majority of them civilians. More than 150 Israelis were killed, mostly soldiers.
The conflict was sparked by Hezbollah’s seizure of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.
Amnesty’s criticism of Hezbollah came three weeks after the London-based group levelled similar charges at Israel.
It said the Jewish state purposely destroyed food shops by shelling and air attacks, deliberately blocked aid convoys and put hospitals and public utilities like water and power plants out of action to force people to flee.
Israel says it did not target civilians and had warned non-combatants to leave south Lebanon.
The Hezbollah rocket salvoes forced between 350,000 and a million northern Israelis to flee their homes, Amnesty said. The hundreds of thousands who remained behind spent much of the war in bomb shelters. A million Lebanese were also displaced.
The total damage to Israel from the rockets was $1.8 billion, a parliament panel found. The war damage to Lebanese buildings and infrastructure was estimated at $3.5 billion.
Amnesty has called for the United Nations to quickly set up an independent inquiry into breaches of international humanitarian law it says were committed by both sides.