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Questions and Answers on Hostilities Between Israel and Hezbollah
Report, Human Rights Watch, 17 July 2006
On July 12, Hezbollah launched an attack on Israeli positions on the Israeli side of the Lebanese border, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two. In response, Israel launched air and artillery attacks against targets throughout Lebanon, including Beirut’s international airport, bridges and highways, and Hezbollah offices. It also instituted an air, sea, and land blockade. According to media reports at the time of writing, Israeli attacks have killed at least 110 civilians and wounded more than 235 in Lebanon. Hezbollah forces have launched more than 800 rockets across the border into northern Israel, as far south as Tiberias (35km/22 miles south of the border), killing 12 civilians and injuring more than 100.
The following questions and answers set out some of the legal rules governing the various actions taken by Israel and Hezbollah to date in this recent conflict. Human Rights Watch sets out these rules before it has been able to conduct extensive on-the-ground investigation. The purpose is to provide analytic guidance for those who are examining the fighting as well as for the parties to the conflict and those with the capacity to influence them.
This Q & A addresses only the rules of international humanitarian law, known as jus in bello, which govern the way each party to the armed conflict must conduct itself in the course of the hostilities. It does not address whether Hezbollah was justified in attacking Israel, whether Israel was justified in attacking Lebanon for the conduct of Hezbollah, or other matters concerning the legitimacy of resorting to war. In accordance with its institutional mandate, Human Rights Watch maintains a position of strict neutrality on these issues of jus ad bellum because we find it the best way to promote our primary goal of encouraging both sides in the course of the conflict to respect international humanitarian law.
What international humanitarian law applies to the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah?
The current armed conflict between Hezbollah and Israel is governed by international treaty as well as the rules of customary international humanitarian law. The treaty, specifically, common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to which Israel is a party, sets forth minimum standards for all parties to a conflict between a state party such as Israel and a non-state party such as Hezbollah. The customary rules are based on established state practice, and bind all parties to an armed conflict, whether state actors or non-state armed groups.