BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Human Rights Watch accused Hezbollah of trying to silence it on Wednesday as the U.S.-based watchdog faced heavy criticism in Lebanon over a report critical of the guerrilla group’s rocket attacks on Israel last year. Both Hezbollah and the Lebanese government slammed Human Rights Watch (HRW) over the report, which states that the rocket attacks targeted Israeli civilians in violation of the laws of war during a 34-day-long conflict with Israel. HRW had planned to launch the report in Beirut on Thursday. But a hotel had revoked permission for the organisation’s news conference following a furore in Lebanese media over plans for the Beirut launch.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV led its news broadcasts with reports containing scathing criticism of HRW.
Some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in Lebanon by the war, which was triggered on July 12 when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. The conflict killed 158 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, told Reuters: “It’s quite appalling to us that Hezbollah can’t take the criticism. When it comes down to it, Hezbollah were more interested in shutting us up.” Hussein Rahhal, head of Hezbollah’s media unit, said there was a “distortion of facts” in the report. “We were targeting soldiers and military bases principally but Israel’s main direct targets were civilians. Civilian casualties inflicted by us were indirect,” he said.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora also criticised HRW. “It is impermissible to put the killers and the killed on the same level,” he said in remarks published on Wednesday.
Whitson said: “Certainly the Lebanese government was loving our report when it was critical of Israel’s actions …. But when it’s politically sensitive, they shy away from the report.” HRW has issued a report critical of Israel’s actions. It has also released statements condemning the tactics of both Israel and Hezbollah during the war.
In the report, HRW said it “found that numerous rockets were fired in which there was no apparent legitimate target in the vicinity at the time of the attack, indicating that civilians were deliberately attacked”.
During the war, Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets into northern Israel while the Jewish state launched intensive air assaults on Hezbollah bastions in south Lebanon and southern Beirut. It also hit bridges and roads across the country.