Annan: Israeli attack on Qana could be part of a pattern of violations of international law

(8 AUGUST 2006) UN NEWS - Israel's deadly attack on the Lebanese village of Qana could be part of a "larger pattern of violations of international law" committed during the almost month-long conflict with Hizbollah, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, calling for a more comprehensive investigation into the 30 July bombardment.

Mr. Annan made his assessment in a letter to the Security Council calling for more information on the attack, and it drew on official accounts provided by the Governments of Lebanon and Israel, as well as UN witnesses who visited Qana after the incident, although he highlighted that none were present when it occurred.

"The attack on Qana should be seen in the broader context of what could be, based on preliminary information available to the United Nations, including eyewitness accounts, a pattern of violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, committed during the course of the current hostilities."

"I have repeatedly condemned all actions that target civilians and I again call on all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and, in particular, to take all necessary precautions to spare civilian life and property."

Expressing his grave distress at the "tragic events" in Qana and by the overall effect of the conflict on the civilian populations of both Israel and Lebanon, Mr. Annan said it was at a "level of seriousness that requires further gathering of information, including violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law."

His letter also included a statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and highlighted that while medical teams from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were able to assist in the rescue efforts once they arrived in Qana, the nearest UN post is around 20 kilometres away.

"UNIFIL is not in a position to confirm or deny whether Hizbollah was launching military activities from Qana in the days prior to or on 30 July," Mr. Annan wrote in the six-page letter that also includes excerpts from notes verbales received from the Governments of Israel and Lebanon.

"Qana is the centre of Hizbollah's regional headquarters. It contains

extensive weapons stockpiles, serves as a haven for fleeing terrorists, and is the source of over 150 missiles launched into northern Israel," Israel said in its statement, which was unsigned, adding that "prior to the operation" it had "publicly called on the residents to move away from the terrorists and flee from the areas where missiles are being launched."

The letter said Israel regrets civilian deaths in the conflict and does not target them intentionally. It accused Hizbullah of using civilians as human shields and intentionally targeting Israeli civilians.

Two letters from Lebanon -- one from its U.N. mission and the other from its Foreign Ministry -- said the Qana attack was one of several violations of humanitarian law Israel has committed during the fighting against Hizbullah.

The letter from the U.N. mission said that the civilians who remained in Qana, which had been bombarded heavily in the previous two weeks, either found their escape blocked by destroyed roads and buildings, or were too old, sick or poor to leave.

That letter had initially claimed that 62 people were killed and that Israel had presented no evidence showing Hizbullah was operating among them. The warnings Israel delivered do not absolve it of its humanitarian obligations, the letter said.

"In Qana, Israeli forces deliberately attacked the civilian population sheltering in an unadulterated residential area," the letter said. "This, without any doubt, represents a war crime committed against (the) civilian population not taking direct part in the hostilities."

Lebanon's response contradicted Israel's letter, noting that civilians had taken refuge in the three-storey building that was struck by Israeli missiles because it had a reinforced basement and adding that "they were not able to flee the area because of destroyed roads and the ongoing Israeli attacks."

"None of the bodies recovered showed that there were militants mingled among the civilians, and the rescuers found no weapons in the building that was struck," the Lebanese said in their note verbale.

Mr. Annan's letter also highlighted that Qana is no stranger to tragedy, noting that in April 1996, more than 100 Lebanese civilians who had sought refuge in a UNIFIL compound were killed by Israeli shelling.

UN Daily News, agencies

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