Reported in the Guardian as part of a different column:
Israel has been accused of pursuing a scorched-earth policy in the region, using aerial weapons and phosphorus shells in a manner human rights organisations claim is in breach of international law.
As Lebanese medical staff reported that an Israeli air strike had killed a woman and her six children in a house in the southern village of Nmeiriya, western diplomats in Beirut admitted they were ‘baffled’ by Israel’s targeting policy. Ambulances, refugee columns and civilian homes, infrastructure and UN posts have all been hit – and evidence has begun to emerge that civilians may have suffered phosphorus burns.
Footage has also emerged of the increasingly widespread use of cluster munitions in areas with civilian inhabitants. Concern has been further heightened by the delivery to Israel by the US of at least 100 GBU-28 ‘bunker-buster’ bombs containing depleted uranium warheads for use against targets in Lebanon.
Human rights organisations are also examining whether Israel’s ‘order’ for hundreds of thousands of Lebanese residents south of the Litani river to abandon their homes is a breach of international law and UN conventions.
A field researcher from the American based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Lucy Mair, sent pictures to military experts at the organisation’s New York office of munitions being transported to Israel’s northern border and fired into Lebanon from howitzers. She was shocked to discover they were cluster munitions.
Mair said researchers on the other side of the border documented an attack using the munitions on the village of Blida last week which killed one person and injured 12 and that the explosives – which disperse after impact – are ‘inaccurate and unreliable’, and should not be used in populated areas.
Mair, who heads HRW’s Jerusalem office, said a disturbing picture was emerging of the use of weapons, fired from air and land, which pointed at best to a lack of due care regarding civilian life and at worst to the direct targeting of civilians.
‘The overwhelming impression is that time and time and again civilians are attacked and only civilian infrastructure is targeted. In cases of civilian casualties our investigators have studied, they have not been able to find the presence of Hizbollah rockets or launchers – only civilian targets,’ she said.
The group believes the use of cluster munitions in populated areas may violate the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks contained in international humanitarian law. Critics say the law of war requires a distinction between soldiers and civilians, so when an army is using an outdated, unreliable weapon in a populated area it is likely the attack will violate international law.
Regarding reports that Israel was intentionally trying to depopulate a large swathe of territory in the south, Mair said: ‘It’s hard for us to speak about this. But given there is such a massive displacement, it’s difficult to imagine a situation where the population can move back.’
There have also been reports in Lebanon that Israel is using phosphorus munitions, with doctors reporting burn wounds to civilians. Israel has commented that it believes that it has used its weapons legally.
Guardian Unlimited: Israelis withdraw from Hizbollah border stronghold