Israeli Attacks on Lebanese Civilian Infrastructure

August 28, 2006

On August 23, Amnesty International issued a report outlining how the Israeli army deliberately and systematically targeted the civilian population and infrastructure of Lebanon during the recent war.

Below we print excerpts from the report.

The briefing that follows summarizes Amnesty International's initial assessment and concerns on the massive destruction of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon that has taken place during the conflict. It is based on first-hand information from a field mission which has visited Lebanon; interviews with dozens of victims of the attacks; official statements and press accounts; discussions with UN, Israeli military and Lebanese government officials; and talks with Israeli and Lebanese non-governmental groups.

During more than four weeks of ground and aerial bombardment of Lebanon by the Israeli armed forces, the country's infrastructure suffered destruction on a catastrophic scale. Israeli forces pounded buildings into the ground, reducing entire neighbourhoods to rubble and turning villages and towns into ghost towns, as their inhabitants fled the bombardments. Main roads, bridges and petrol stations were blown to bits. Entire families were killed in air strikes on their homes or in their vehicles while fleeing the aerial assaults on their villages. Scores lay buried beneath the rubble of their houses for weeks, as the Red Cross and other rescue workers were prevented from accessing the areas by continuing Israeli strikes. The hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who fled the bombardment now face the danger of unexploded munitions as they head home.

The Israeli Air Force launched more than 7,000 air attacks on about 7,000 targets in Lebanon between 12 July and 14 August, while the Navy conducted an additional 2,500 bombardments. The attacks, though widespread, particularly concentrated on certain areas. In addition to the human toll - an estimated 1,183 fatalities, about one third of whom have been children, 4,054 people injured and 970,000 Lebanese people displaced - the civilian infrastructure was severely damaged. The Lebanese government estimates that 31 "vital points" (such as airports, ports, water and sewage treatment plants, electrical facilities) have been completely or partially destroyed, as have around 80 bridges and 94 roads. More than 25 fuel stations and around 900 commercial enterprises were hit. The number of residential properties, offices and shops completely destroyed exceeds 30,000. Two government hospitals - in Bint Jbeil and in Meis al-Jebel - were completely destroyed in Israeli attacks and three others were seriously damaged.

In a country of fewer than four million inhabitants, more than 25 per cent of them took to the roads as displaced persons. An estimated 500,000 people sought shelter in Beirut alone, many of them in parks and public spaces, without water or washing facilities.

Amnesty International delegates in south Lebanon reported that in village after village the pattern was similar: the streets, especially main streets, were scarred with artillery craters along their length. In some cases cluster bomb impacts were identified. Houses were singled out for precision-guided missile attack and were destroyed, totally or partially, as a result. Business premises such as supermarkets or food stores and auto service stations and petrol stations were targeted, often with precision-guided munitions and artillery that started fires and destroyed their contents. With the electricity cut off and food and other supplies not coming into the villages, the destruction of supermarkets and petrol stations played a crucial role in forcing local residents to leave. The lack of fuel also stopped residents from getting water, as water pumps require electricity or fuel-fed generators.

Israeli government spokespeople have insisted that they were targeting Hezbollah positions and support facilities, and that damage to civilian infrastructure was incidental or resulted from Hezbollah using the civilian population as a "human shield". However, the pattern and scope of the attacks, as well as the number of civilian casualties and the amount of damage sustained, makes the justification ring hollow. The evidence strongly suggests that the extensive destruction of public works, power systems, civilian homes and industry was deliberate and an integral part of the military strategy, rather than "collateral damage" - incidental damage to civilians or civilian property resulting from targeting military objectives.

Statements by Israeli military officials seem to confirm that the destruction of the infrastructure was indeed a goal of the military campaign. On 13 July, shortly after the air strikes began, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Dan Halutz noted that all Beirut could be included among the targets if Hezbollah rockets continued to hit northern Israel: "Nothing is safe [in Lebanon], as simple as that," he said. Three days later, according to the Jerusalem Post newspaper, a high ranking IDF officer threatened that Israel would destroy Lebanese power plants if Hezbollah fired long-range missiles at strategic installations in northern Israel. On 24 July, at a briefing by a high-ranking Israeli Air Force officer, reporters were told that the IDF Chief of Staff had ordered the military to destroy 10 buildings in Beirut for every Katyusha rocket strike on Haifa. His comments were later condemned by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. According to the New York Times, the IDF Chief of Staff said the air strikes were aimed at keeping pressure on Lebanese officials, and delivering a message to the Lebanese government that they must take responsibility for Hezbollah's actions. He called Hezbollah "a cancer" that Lebanon must get rid of, "because if they don't their country will pay a very high price."

The widespread destruction of apartments, houses, electricity and water services, roads, bridges, factories and ports, in addition to several statements by Israeli officials, suggests a policy of punishing both the Lebanese government and the civilian population in an effort to get them to turn against Hezbollah. Israeli attacks did not diminish, nor did their pattern appear to change, even when it became clear that the victims of the bombardment were predominantly civilians, which was the case from the first days of the conflict.

Environmental Damage

The attack on Lebanon's largest power station at Jiyyeh had both an immediate adverse impact on the population, and long-term implications for the environment and the economy. Israeli forces bombed the Jiyyeh power station, about 25km south of Beirut, and its fuel tanks on 13 July and again on 15 July. The resulting fire, which burned for three weeks, coated the surrounding areas with a fine white dust of pulverized concrete and filled the air with black soot. In addition, that attack caused 15,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil to leak into the sea. The oil slick has contaminated more than 150km of the Lebanese coastline, and has spread north into Syrian waters. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) has characterized it as one of the worst environmental disasters seen in the region. The cost of a comprehensive clean-up was estimated to be US $150 million, with work taking up to a year.