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Exclusive: Israel Trying to Minimize Harm to Civilians

Created 2006-08-05 04:27

Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs Comments to Asian Tribune’s Special Correspondent Dr. Richard L. Benkin

Washington, 05 August, ( Asian Tribune’s Special correspondent, Dr. Richard L. Benkin , spoke with officials from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the war on Israel’s northern border. He put together the following report.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin: How does Israel support its claim that its response to the Hezbollah attack on it soil is “proportionate”?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Israel's actions result not just from Hizbullah's unprovoked attack against Israel and the abduction of two soldiers. Israel's military operation is also being carried out against the tangible threat of some 12,000 Hizbullah missiles aimed at more than a million civilians living throughout northern Israel and forcing them to live in bomb shelters. Hizbullah -- a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel's destruction – has launched more than 2,000 missiles in the past few days, causing numerous civilian deaths, hundreds of casualties, and widespread destruction. Israel will employ only whatever amount of force is necessary to defend its population by removing this terrorist threat.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin: Why, then, has Israel targeted civilian areas in Lebanon?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Hizbullah fires hundreds of missiles indiscriminately at Israeli population centers with the goal of killing as many civilians as possible. Attacks have targeted large cities such as Haifa, small farms such as Meron, Arab villages such as Majdal Krum, and religious sites such as Safed and Nazareth.

In contrast, in line with Israel's military doctrine, Israel targets only facilities which directly serve Hizbullah in its aggression against Israel. For example, Israel targeted the Beirut International Airport and the Beirut-Damascus Highway, because they serve to resupply Hizbullah with weapons and ammunition. Israel has also targeted buildings, such as Hizbullah's television studios, which act as a vital means of communication for terrorist operatives, as well as the Beirut compound of Harat Hreik, a closed Hizbullah stronghold.

Unfortunately, the terrorists have purposely hidden themselves and stockpiled their missiles in residential areas, cynically endangering their own civilian populations. Indeed, many missiles are fired at Israel from private homes, commandeered by Hizbullah terrorists who use the inhabitants as human shields. Despite this cruel exploitation of civilians, Israel is taking extreme care to reduce to minimize the risk to which the population is exposed - often at the cost of operational advantages. For example, leaflets are dropped urging residents to leave Hizbullah areas, even though such prior warning reduces Israel’s element of surprise.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin: What do you say to accusations that Israel uses weapons, cluster bombs have been cited as example, that cause excessive damage?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is committed to conducting operations in full conformity with the law of armed conflict. These rules are enshrined in the IDF's Manual on the Law of Armed Conflict, which requires that military operations be directed only against military targets, and that only weapons which can be directed at such targets be used. Additionally, the manual requires that, where the risk of incidental injury to civilians outweighs the expected military advantage, the military operation cannot be carried out.

Regarding allegations that illegal use has been made of cluster bombs and phosphorus weapons, it should be noted that neither of these types of weapons is prohibited under the Conventional Weapons Convention, to which Israel is a party. Israel stresses that, in all circumstances, it makes strenuous efforts to ensure that military operations are conducted so as to minimize harm to civilians and damage to their property.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin: But Israel cannot deny that many Lebanese civilians have been killed.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Israel deeply regrets the loss of innocent lives. Israel does not target civilians, yet is forced to take decisive action against Hizbullah's ongoing rocket attacks against Israel’s own civilian population. Hizbullah's deliberate placement of its missiles among its own civilians means that it cynically uses them as human shields – a practice banned under international law. When Israel is forced to act to defend its citizens, some of Hizbullah's human shields inevitably get hurt; but the responsibility for this tragic situation lies solely with the Hizbullah.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin: It should be noted that Israel apologizes profusely when Arab civilians are harmed, whereas on the other hand, Hezbollah and its allies rejoice in the deaths of Israeli civilians. There is an exception to that, however. While Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah cheers every death of Jewish Israelis—and even says that the killers will be rewarded by Allah—he apologized to the parents of two Arab Israelis who were killed by a Hezbollah rocket fired on Nazareth.

What is Israel doing to alleviate the suffering of the Lebanese population?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Israel has established, through the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a humanitarian corridor in order to meet the needs of the Lebanese population. This corridor is designed for the shipment of supplies and the evacuation of civilians in need of medical care, as well as foreign nationals wishing to leave Lebanon. At present, the route enters Lebanon through Beirut Port and Israel is working with the international community to expand the corridor to include other points of entry as well.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin: Earlier in this war, a UN post was hit by Israeli fire, and four UN soldiers were killed. Why did that happen?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: An initial inquiry has determined that the UN post, located in the vicinity of Al-Khiyam, where Hizbullah has been firing missiles at Israel, was unintentionally hit. The IDF expressed deep regret over the incident, stressing that it would never intentionally target any UN facility or personnel.

Immediately afterward, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and expressed his profound regret over the accidental killing of the four soldiers. The prime minister said that he would instruct the IDF to hold a comprehensive inquiry into the incident and would share the results with the UN secretary-general.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin: Why is Israel acting against Hezbollah when there is a democratically elected government in Lebanon? Shouldn’t they take care of Hezbollah’s cross-border violations?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Israel has shown restraint for more than six years. In May 2000 Israel took the difficult decision to withdraw from the southern Lebanon security zone it had been forced to establish to prevent terrorist attacks. The UN Security Council acknowledged Israel’s complete withdrawal and gave the Lebanese government an opportunity to take full control of the south and establish a peaceful border with Israel. Instead, it allowed Hizbullah to occupy the border zone and to accumulate a vast arsenal of rockets and missiles. Sadly, Lebanon did not heed the demands of the international community to exercise its sovereignty and disarm Hizbullah, and today, the Lebanese people bears the consequences of its government’s inaction.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin: The UN also directed the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah in UN Resolution 1559. Is there a diplomatic solution to the crisis?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The components of such a solution are as follows: the return of the hostages, Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev; a complete cease fire; - deployment of the Lebanese army in all of southern Lebanon; expulsion of Hizbullah from the area, and implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559.

Israel will judge diplomatic initiatives meant to implement the aforementioned components, in light of three criteria: preservation of IDF gains in removing Hizbullah from the border region; elimination of the Hizbullah long-range missile threat; prevention of Hizbullah’s re-arming by closely monitoring of the possible routes into Lebanon from Syria or elsewhere.

Under the context of implementing Resolution 1559, Israel would agree to consider deploying a military force of European Union member states in southern Lebanon, to assist the Lebanese Army and to control the crossings between Lebanon and Syria so as to prevent the passage of war materiel to Hizbullah.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin: But doesn’t Israel and the international community hold different positions on this conflict?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Israel and the international community see eye-to-eye on the elements of a solution. Israel welcomes the recognition of the G-8 nations (St. Petersburg, July 16) that Hizbullah and Hamas are responsible for initiating the current violence by their unprovoked attacks on Israel’s civilians and abductions of Israeli soldiers within Israel’s sovereign borders. Like the G-8, Israel believes that the way to a solution lies with the release of the abducted soldiers, the cessation of rocket fire on Israel, and Lebanon's full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 requiring the disarming of Hizbullah.

Israel also welcomes the demand of the International Conference on Lebanon (Rome, July 26) to bring about the full and immediate implementation of Resolution 1559 and the G-8 statement, which call for the disarming of Hizbullah and the exercise of Lebanese sovereignty, through its army, over the entire country.

Ultimately, Israel hopes that a well-crafted solution to the present crisis lead to the establishment of peaceful and friendly relations with Lebanon, whose people will be freed from being held hostage by Hizbullah, and whose government will have regained Lebanese sovereignty. The present situation thus affords a unique opportunity for the international community and Lebanon, as well as for Israel, to advance peace in the region.

- Asian Tribune -

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