Annan says Israeli attack on Qana could be part of a pattern of rights violations

UNITED NATIONS — The Israeli air strike on the Lebanese town of Qana may be part of a larger pattern of violations of international law in the war between Israel and Hizbollah, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report.

In that light, Annan said that the July 30 air strike was sufficiently serious to merit a more comprehensive investigation.The attack should be seen “in the broader context of what could be, based on preliminary information available to the United Nations … a pattern of violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law committed during the course of the current hostilities,” Annan wrote.

The Security Council had asked Annan last week to report back on the circumstances of the attack, when it approved a statement expressing its “extreme shock and distress” at the bombing. It deplored the loss of civilian life in the conflict. In the report, Annan acknowledged requests from Lebanon, the Arab League and the Non-Aligned Movement for a full investigation. Yet the report, just six pages long, said the seven days Annan was given were not nearly enough time for such a task, particularly because the fighting has made getting to Qana difficult and UN observers were not there when the attack occurred. Annan’s report said the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, known by its acronym UNIFIL, could not confirm or deny Israel’s contention that Hizbollah was launching rocket attacks from Qana before the July 30 air strike.

In a letter to Annan accompanying the report, Israel claimed that Qana was Hizbollah’s regional headquarters, contained weapons stockpiles, and was the site of 150 missile launches. The letter said Israel had repeatedly warned civilians in the town to clear out before it was bombed. “Since the start of hostilities, Israelis in 150 population centres have faced unprecedented danger from a barrage of missiles and attacks emanating from areas such as Qana,” said the Israeli letter, which was unsigned. “Like other operations, the goal of the Qana raid was to defend Israeli citizens.” The letter said Israel regrets civilian deaths in the conflict and does not target them intentionally. It accused Hizbollah of using civilians as human shields and intentionally targeting Israeli civilians.

Two letters from Lebanon — one from its UN 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 Hizbollah. The letter from the UN 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 claimed that 62 people were killed and that Israel had presented no evidence showing Hizbollah 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.

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