23 July 2006: Lebanon and Northern Israel
International Humanitarian Law requires protection of civilians from the harms of war
B'Tselem views with concern the many civilian casualties in Lebanon and in northern Israel over the past week. B'Tselem's mandate is limited to human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The organization is therefore not documenting human rights violations in this conflict.
However, the organization reiterates that international humanitarian law (IHL) obligates all parties taking part in hostilities to refrain from launching attacks against civilians or against civilian objects.
IHL requires that the combating sides direct their attacks only against specific military objectives, take cautionary measures to prevent injury to civilians, and refrain from disproportionate attacks, i.e. attacks directed against legitimate targets, but that are likely to cause excessive harm to civilian. Furthermore, IHL clearly forbids the intimidation and terrorising of civilians, as well as collective punishment.
Over the past week, Israel has killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians in its attacks against targets in Lebanon . There is a concern that at least some of them were disproportionate attacks, which constitute war crimes. In addition, Israel has launched deliberate attacks against civilian infrastructure throughout Lebanon , such as bridges, the Beirut international airport , the electricity supply and fuel reservoirs. There is a concern that such attacks are intended to put pressure on the Lebanese Government and not to obtain a specific military advantage. If this is the case, these attacks constitute collective punishment and a grave violation of IHL. Moreover, even if these targets constitute legitimate military objects, or civilian objectives that may be used for military purposes, Israel must respect the principle of proportionality and refrain from attacks that would cause excessive harm to civilians.
At the same time, Hezbollah has been launching numerous deliberate attacks against Israeli civilians in the north of the country, which have killed and injured many civilians. Targeting a civilian population is classified as a grave breach of international humanitarian law and a war crime.
B'Tselem calls on its own government to respect the principles of IHL. The organization calls on the international community to ensure that all parties respect these same principles.