(Beirut, July 30, 2006) Responsibility for the Israeli airstrikes that killed at least 54 civilians sheltering in a home in the Lebanese village of Qana , Human Rights Watch said today. It is the that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have waged in Lebanon over the past 18 days, leaving an estimated 750 people dead, the vast majority of them civilians. "Today's strike on Qana, killing at least 54 civilians, more than half of them children, suggests that the Israeli military is ," said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. "The Israeli military seems to consider anyone left in the area a combatant who is fair game for attack."
This latest, appalling loss of civilian life underscores the need for the U.N. Secretary-General to establish an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate serious violations of international humanitarian law in the context of the current conflict, Roth said.
A statement issued today by the IDF said that responsibility for the Qana attack "rests with the Hezbollah" because it has used the area to launch "hundreds of missiles" into Israel. It added: "Residents in this region and specifically the residents of Qana were warned several days in advance to leave the village."
Roth said. "It still must make every possible effort to target only genuine combatants.
Even if the IDF claims of Hezbollah rocket fire from the Qana area are correct, Israel remains under a strict obligation to direct attacks at only military objectives, and to take all feasible precautions to avoid the incidental loss of civilian life.
Tens of thousands of civilians remain in villages south of the Litani River, despite IDF warnings to leave. Some have chosen to stay, but the vast majority is
The attack took place around 1:00 a.m. today, when Israeli warplanes fired missiles at the village of Qana. Among the homes struck was a three-story building in which 63 members of two extended families, the Shalhoub and Hashim families, had sought shelter. The civilians had taken refuge there because it was one of the larger buildings in the area and had a reinforced basement, according to the deputy mayor of the town, Dr. Issam Matuni.
According to the Lebanese civil defense and the Lebanese Red Cross, at least 54 civilians, including 27 children, were crushed to death when the building collapsed. Rescue teams were unable to reach the village until 9:00 a.m. because of ongoing heavy IDF bombardment in the area.
Human Rights Watch researchers have been in Lebanon since the onset of the current hostilities and have . A report of these findings and their legal consequences will be issued later this week.
"War crimes by one party to a conflict never justify war crimes by another," Roth said.