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Israel Releases Video Footage To Refute War Crime Claims

By Greg Myre
THE NEW YORK TIMES


JERUSALEM

Israel’s military, which has been accused of abuses in its war against Hezbollah this summer, has declassified photographs, video and prisoner interrogations to buttress its accusation that Hezbollah systematically fired from civilian neighborhoods in southern Lebanon and took cover in those areas to shield itself from attack.

Lebanon and international human rights groups have accused Israel of war crimes in the 34 days of fighting in July and August, saying that Israel fired into populated areas and that civilians accounted for the vast majority of the more than 1,000 Lebanese killed.

Israel says that it tried to avoid civilians, but that Hezbollah fired from civilian areas, itself a war crime, which made those areas legitimate targets.

In a new report, an Israeli research group says that Hezbollah stored weapons in mosques, battled Israelis from inside empty schools, flew white flags while transporting missiles and launched rockets near U.N. monitoring posts.

The detailed report on the war was produced by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies, a private research group headed by Reuven Erlich, a retired colonel in military intelligence, who worked closely with the Israeli military.

An advance copy was given to The New York Times by the American Jewish Congress, which has itself fought against the use of “human shields,” provided consultation and translated the study.

In Lebanon, a Hezbollah official denied the study’s allegations, saying its military units were based outside towns and villages and had come into populated areas only when circumstances required it.

“We tried to avoid having to fight among civilian areas, but when Israeli troops entered villages, we were automatically forced to fight them from inside these villages to defend it,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on military matters.

Israel’s critics charge that its military either singled out civilians or was reckless in its pursuit of Hezbollah. The new report is an attempt to rebut such criticism.

The report includes Israeli Air Force video that it says shows several instances of Hezbollah personnel firing rockets next to residential buildings in southern Lebanon and then being bombed by Israel. The adjacent buildings were presumably damaged, but there is no information on whether civilians were inside.

“This study explains the dilemma facing the Israeli military as it fights an enemy that intentionally operates from civilian areas,” said Erlich. “This is the kind of asymmetric warfare we are seeing today. It’s not only relevant to Lebanon, but is also what we are seeing in the Gaza Strip and in Iraq.”

The report says: “The construction of a broad military infrastructure, positioned and hidden in populated areas, was intended to minimize Hezbollah’s vulnerability. Hezbollah would also gain a propaganda advantage if it could represent Israel as attacking innocent civilians.”

In a video from July 23, a truck with a multi-barreled missile launcher, presumably from Hezbollah, is parked in a street, sandwiched between residential buildings. The video was transmitted from an Israeli missile approaching the truck. The screen goes fuzzy as the missile slams into the target.