Saturday, July 15, 2006

Israel violated the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions

Israel violated the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions by murdering civilians, the two Israeli soldiers are prisoners of war subject to the Third Geneva Convention

by Dr. Muhamad Mugraby

Today, Lebanon is in a state of war with Israel. The Israeli army has committed wide ranging acts of aggression against Lebanese civilians and civil infra-structure, such as the murder of dozens of Lebanese, including entire families, without being in any proximity to legitimate military targets (no possibility of qualifying as a collateral), and in flagrant violation of the laws of war and particularly the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and the Hague Regulations of 1907, at least in the following ways:

1. Article 3 of the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians outlawed violence against the persons and lives of all those who do not actively participate in military operations. It prohibits killing, mutilating, torturing or otherwise treating them with cruelty.

2. Article 49 of the same convention requires the prosecution and trial of those military personnel that commit or order the commitment of such crimes.

3. The matter of the two Israeli prisoners of war taken by Hizbullah, in the aftermath of a military battle in which they were in uniform, armed and on a military mission in an armored vehicle, is regulated by the Third Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War. Article 21 of this convention authorizes their internment subject to certain conditions. Their rights as prisoners of war are provided in the said convention. The Israeli Government may seek to insure those rights through the peaceful means authorized by the said convention.

4. The military organization of Hizbullah, in relation to the war with Israel, is an organized resistance movement recognized under the Hague Regulations of 1907, which were ratified by Lebanon on June 12, 1962. Article 1 of the Regulations requires the following conditions for the members of a resistance organization:

a. To follow the command of a commander responsible for his subordinates.
b. To carry or wear a distinctive sign recognizable at a distance, but without the necessity of wearing a uniform.
c. Carrying arms openly when engaged in an operation, but without giving up the element of surprise.
d. Conducting operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

The Israeli government behaves like the parents of a detainee at a police station. Instead of hiring lawyers to secure his rights it attempts to destroy the entire city where he is being detained.

For these reasons, and as there are over fifty Lebanese civilians who have no relationship to the military conflict who have been murdered by the Israeli army, including a large number of infants, we are being faced with horrible acts of premeditated murder which should be exposed, prosecuted, and brought to trial, perhaps under the statutes of the International Criminal Court.

I call on the Lebanese Government to take prompt measures in the exercise of national legal rights which could lead to the restoration of the rule of law internationally and perhaps even help in restoring sanity to the Israeli Government and its allies. I call on the international community to promptly interfere in favor of a full restoration of the rule of law on an international and regional basis, beginning with the prevention of more acts of murder by the Israeli army.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel Attacks Beirut Airport and Sets Up Naval Blockade

July 13, 2006, New York Times


BEIRUT, Friday, July 14 — Israel imposed a full naval blockade on Lebanon on Thursday and put Beirut International Airport out of commission, and the militant group Hezbollah unleashed a hail of rockets and mortar shells that killed two and sent thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters.

A day after cross-border raids by Hezbollah fighters brought Israeli troops into Lebanon in force for the first time in six years, Israel sent punishing airstrikes deeper into the country, hitting all three runways at the Beirut airport, two Lebanese Army bases, Hezbollah’s Al Manar television station and, early on Friday, the main highway between Beirut and Damascus, Syria.

The Lebanese government said 53 Lebanese had died since Wednesday, including one family of 10 and another of 7 in the southern village of Dweir. More than 103 have been wounded, the Lebanese said.

Lebanese hoarded canned goods and batteries as lines at gas stations stretched for blocks. Supermarkets and bakeries were flooded. It felt, many said, like the civil war that ended 15 years ago was back.

Israel said that the Lebanese government is responsible for the actions of Hezbollah, which is a member of the governing coalition, and that the cross-border raid that captured two of its soldiers on Wednesday was an unprovoked act of war by a neighboring state.

Senior Israeli officials said that the military had been freed up to cut off Lebanon, permanently drive Hezbollah forces back from the border, and punish the government for not upholding a United Nations directive to disarm and control the group.

Israel’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, warned that “nothing is safe” in Lebanon and that Beirut itself, especially Hezbollah offices and strongholds in southern Beirut, would be a target.

Hezbollah fired more than 120 Katyusha rockets and mortar shells into Israel on Thursday, Israeli officials said. The barrage killed a woman on her balcony in Nahariya, killed a man in Safed, and wounded more than 100 other Israelis in some 20 towns and villages, including Haifa, Safed and Carmiel. Hezbollah said it was using a new rocket, the “Thunder 1,” more advanced than the standard Katyusha, which does not have enough range to reach the 30 miles between Haifa and the border.

Thousands of Israelis in the north spent the night in bomb shelters as Hezbollah warned that Israeli attacks on southern Beirut would be met by rocket attacks on Haifa, a port city of 250,000 people 18 miles from the international border. Thursday evening, two rockets landed near the city’s Stella Maris Church.

The rapid surge in fighting on a second front, two weeks after Israel entered Gaza to try to secure the release of another captured soldier, alarmed Arab and Western governments and drove up the price of oil.

The European Union criticized Israel on Thursday for “the disproportionate use of force” in Lebanon “in response to attacks by Hezbollah on Israel,” according to a statement issued by the current Finnish presidency. It said that “the imposition of an air and sea blockade on Lebanon cannot be justified.”

The Israeli military said it struck the airport because it is “a central hub for the transfer of weapons and supplies to the Hezbollah terrorist organization.”

President Bush, in remarks in Germany, said that “Israel has the right to defend herself,” but he also called for care, warning Israel not to weaken the government in Lebanon.

“There are a group of terrorists who want to stop the advance of peace,” Mr. Bush said. “The soldiers need to be returned.”

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, warned that Israel’s Lebanon offensive “is raising our fears of a new regional war” and urged world powers to intervene.

The Lebanese government, which has said that it had nothing to do with the raid by Hezbollah, called for a cease-fire, saying that all means should be used to end “open aggression” against the country.

But Israeli officials said there would be a long campaign to restore the country’s security both along its southern border with Gaza and its northern one with Lebanon. The Israelis want to restore their military credibility with the Palestinian militants and Hamas government in Gaza and with Hezbollah, and they say they intend to make the current campaign painful on both sets of antagonists.

Neither Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, nor its defense minister, Amir Peretz, has the kind of long military experience previous holders of their positions have had, and they have only been in power for several months. Some Israeli commentators argued that this made it all the more necessary for an unambiguous military response.

The Israelis say that they want the message to get across to Syria and Iran, the countries widely considered to be the main sponsors of Hezbollah and Palestinian militancy.

Mr. Peretz said Israel would no longer allow Hezbollah forces to occupy positions along the border. “If the government of Lebanon fails to deploy its forces, as is expected of a sovereign government, we shall not allow Hezbollah forces to remain any further on the borders of the state of Israel,” he said.

But few Israeli officials expect that the Lebanese government, which is greatly influenced by Syria, has the will or the power to displace Hezbollah in the south.

A senior Israeli foreign ministry official, Gideon Meir, told reporters on Thursday that Israel has “concrete evidence that Hezbollah plans to transfer the kidnapped soldiers to Iran,” but he gave no specifics or source for the claim.

“As a result,” Mr. Meir said, “Israel views Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran as the main players in the axis of terror and hate that endangers not only Israel, but the entire world.”

Israeli concerns that the soldiers might be moved out of Lebanon are a prime reason for its efforts to blockade the country and prevent air traffic, Mr. Meir said later.

Israel called on the international community to press Lebanon to full its commitments under United Nations resolutions to dismantle Hezbollah’s military and send the Lebanese army into southern Lebanon to take control over the international border with Israel.

Israel identified the two soldiers captured on Wednesday as Ehud Goldwasser, 31, of Nahariya, and Eldad Regev, 26, of Kiryat Motzkin. Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, was captured by Palestinian militants on a raid from Gaza into Israel on June 25 that set off an escalating series of attacks and reprisals.

The Israeli attack on the Beirut airport — the first such attack by Israel since 1982 — blasted craters into all three runways, but did not hit the main terminal. Israeli planes later attacked the fuel stores at the airport, setting at least one tank on fire and filling the night sky with flames.

The attack came at the height of the tourist season, and travelers were stranded all over the Middle East. Even the Lebanese foreign minister, Fawzi Salloukh, had to return home overland from Syria from a trip to Armenia. Syria opened its borders to stranded tourists, many of whom rushed to the crossings before Israeli airstrikes cut off the main highway.

In Beirut, residents prepared for a long campaign. “We’ve been through this many times before,” said Rania al-Faris, who stood with her three sisters and mother with their bags packed waiting for the next bus towards the Beqaa Valley. They had blankets, extra food and books, and were ready to be gone for a while. “The roads get closed, and it’s impossible to buy any food or supplies. It’s much safer in the countryside. That is what we used to do during the war.”

By midday Thursday, the city grew more panicked as Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets over the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs, warning residents to evacuate the area before impending attack. Many families packed their bags and left to countryside where they chances of being hurt would be lower.

“People are trying to get out of here any way they can,” said Muhammad Assif, who escorted his mother up to the mountains. Mr. Assif said one of his cousins had been killed in one of the bombings on the south Wednesday night, and the family had collectively decided to head out to safety. “Hezbollah is concentrated here so this going to be where they hit. They hit Al Manar near our house, who knows what comes next,” he said.

Hoards of tourists, most of them from Arab countries, packed up their bags and milled about in hotel lobbies desperate for a way out. But with the country blockaded by sea and air, the sole exit was through the land border with Syria, which by midday was backed up for miles.

Thousands took shelter at the Saudi Embassy in the Ras Beirut neighborhood until buses were organized to the Damascus airport. “People are really shaken, you can see it in their eyes,” said Rifaa al-Otaibi, an embassy employee. “When the airport was hit, it was enough for many.”

Hassan M. Fattah reported from Beirut for this article, and Steven Erlanger from Jerusalem.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Israeli Forces Enter Lebanon After 2 Soldiers Are Seized

July 12, 2006, New York Times


JERUSALEM, July 12 — With two more soldiers captured today, Israel launched a major military offensive on a second front, sending armored forces into southern Lebanon in response to a brazen border raid by the militant group Hezbollah that killed at least seven soldiers in addition to those abducted.

The new Israeli incursion came on a day when the army was still expanding its two-week-old operations in the Gaza Strip, seeking the return of a soldier captured by Palestinian militants inside Israel on June 25. More than 20 Palestinians were killed in Gaza today, most in airstrikes and many of them civilians, according to Palestinian medical officials.

Hezbollah’s assault on Israeli soldiers inside Israeli territory bore similarities to the raid by the Palestinians last month, and suddenly, the crisis on Israel’s southern flank had essentially been replicated on its northern border, ratcheting up tensions even further.

While Israel has overwhelming military superiority in both southern Lebanon and Gaza, Hezbollah and the militant Palestinian faction Hamas both have leverage in the form of the captured Israeli soldiers, raising the possibility that the dual confrontations could carry on indefinitely.

As it has in the Gaza crisis, Israel ruled out negotiations with the Lebanese captors of the Israeli soldiers. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he held the Lebanese government responsible for the assault by Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim group that participates in Lebanese politics but also continues to battle Israel.

“I want to make clear that the event this morning is not a terror act, but an act of a sovereign state that attacked Israel without reason,” Mr. Olmert said. “The government of Lebanon, of which Hezbollah is a part, is trying to shake the stability of the region.”

Israel is demanding that all three of its soldiers be returned unconditionally and that the militant groups stop firing rockets at Israel civilians from Gaza in the south and Lebanon in the north.

But with the Israeli soldiers in hand, Hamas and Hezbollah say the only solution is an exchange for a large number of Palestinian and other Arab prisoners held by Israel.

The Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, suggested the possibility of a package deal.

“The capture of the two soldiers could provide a solution to the Gaza crisis,” Sheik Nasrallah said in Beirut. The operation had been planned for months, he said, though he added, “the timing, no doubt, provides support for our brothers in Palestine.”

Hezbollah said “the two captives were transferred to a safe place,” but did not give additional details on their condition.

Two years ago, Hezbollah managed to win freedom for more than 400 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in exchange for an Israeli businessman held in Lebanon and the corpses of three Israeli soldiers killed in a Hezbollah attack along the border in 2000.

Israel is holding close to 9,000 Palestinian prisoners, though the number of Lebanese prisoners is believed to be small. Many of the Lebanese prisoners were freed in the swap two years ago, which was mediated by Germany.

The Lebanese government said little after the fighting broke out. Hezbollah effectively controls Lebanon’s southern border despite international pressure and a United Nations resolution calling on the Lebanese government to take control of its borders and disarm militia groups.

In the Gaza crisis, Egypt and other countries have tried to broker a deal, but the efforts appear at a standstill. Diplomatic efforts could prove just as difficult in Lebanon.

The United Nations representative to southern Lebanon, Gier Pedersen, condemned Hezbollah’s capture of the Israeli soldiers, calling it “an act of very dangerous proportions.”

Today’s fighting erupted around 9 a.m. when Hezbollah attacked several northwestern Israeli towns with rocket fire, injuring several civilians, the Israeli military said. Israeli civilians rushed into their bomb shelters and many remained there throughout the day.

But that attack was a diversion for the main operation, several miles to the east, where Hezbollah militants fired anti-tank missiles on two armored vehicles patrolling the Israeli side of the border fence, the military said.

Of the seven soldiers in the two vehicles, three were killed, two were wounded and two were abducted, the military said.

Israel then responded with artillery fire, airstrikes and a naval bombardment that targeted some 40 sites in southern Lebanon. Most were believed to be Hezbollah strongholds, but roads and bridges were also hit in an attempt to keep Hezbollah from moving the captured soldiers further to the north, according to the military.

At least two Lebanese civilians were killed and more than 10 injured in southern Lebanon, according to Lebanese officials.

Israel also sent ground forces into Lebanon, and a tank hit a powerful explosive planted in the road, killing all four soldiers inside, the Israeli military said.

With a total of seven soldiers killed, it was one of the deadliest days for the Israeli forces in several years.

The Israeli incursion was the first such operation in southern Lebanon since Israel pulled its troops back into Israel in 2000, ending two decades of occupation.

While cross-border shooting exchanges are still common, it has been exceedingly rare for Hezbollah and the Israeli military to come face-to-face on the ground over the past six years.

Residents in Beirut’s southern suburbs, which are dominated by Shiites, handed out sweets and set off firecrackers in celebration as word spread that the Israeli soldiers had been captured.

In the past, Hezbollah has attacked Israel at moments when there was already heavy fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Hezbollah says it acts out of solidarity with the Palestinians, and the timing also creates additional problems for Israel.

Meanwhile, Gaza endured another bloody day.

Hours before the Hezbollah attack, Israeli troops moved in force into central Gaza, expanding the operation intended to secure the release of the captured soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and to stop rocket fire into Israel.

The Israeli Air Force also dropped a powerful bomb on a home in Gaza City at around 3 a.m., saying it targeted senior Hamas leaders. A Hamas leader who owned the house, Nabil Abu Selmiyeh, was killed, along with his wife, Salwa, and seven of their children, ages 7 to 18, according to Dr. Jumaa al-Saqqa. Dr. Saqqa is the spokesman for Shifa Hospital, where the bodies were taken.

Other Hamas leaders were visiting t but escaped with only minor injuries, Palestinians said.

The couple also had two sons who survived the attack, and a married daughter who lives elsewhere.

The Israeli military said the main target was Muhammad Deif, the head of Hamas’s armed wing. Israel says Mr. Deif is behind scores of attacks against Israeli civilians, including suicide bombings that killed dozens in the mid-1990’s. The military, which has tried to kill Mr. Deif at least four times in recent years, said he was wounded in the bombing.

However, Hamas officials refused to say whether Mr. Deif was at the house at the time of the bombing, and insisted he was safe.

At least 12 more Palestinians were killed in Gaza, most of them in airstrikes around the towns of Khan Yunis and Deir el-Balah, not far from where the Israel troops entered Gaza.

In the ground operation in Gaza, Israeli tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored bulldozers entered at the Kissufim crossing on the eastern side of Gaza and effectively cut the southern third of the territory off from the rest of Gaza.

Israel already has a large force in the southeast corner of Gaza, occupying the Palestinian airport, which has not been used in years. Corporal Shalit is believed to be held in southern Gaza, according to Israeli officials.

Israeli forces in northern Gaza are attempting to halt the Palestinian rocket fire, though the Palestinians continue to launch the rockets daily.

Greg Myre reported from Jerusalem for this article and Steven Erlanger from Gaza City.