Calls for inquiry as Israel accused of using US-sourced arms in 'unlawful' Lebanon strike

Biden administration will deliver a report on Wednesday on whether Israel is using weapons in line with American and international laws

Rescuers show belongings of victims at the site of an Israeli air strike in Habariyeh, southern Lebanon, in March. EPA
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An air strike that killed seven healthcare workers in the south of Lebanon in March was an “unlawful attack on civilians that failed to take all necessary precautions”, Human Rights Watch has said.

The strike on an emergency and relief centre in the southern village of Habariyeh, only five days after Israel killed seven aid workers of the World Central Kitchen non-profit in Gaza, sparked outrage in Lebanon.

“If the attack on civilians was carried out intentionally or recklessly, it should be investigated as an apparent war crime,” HRW said on Tuesday.

On Monday the UK newspaper, The Guardian, reported that an independent investigation found Israel used US-manufactured weapons for the attack, which killed seven volunteer paramedics aged between 18 and 25, based on an analysis of shrapnel found at the site of the attack.

The revelations come as the US State Department is expected to deliver a report to Congress on Wednesday discussing whether it believes Israel is using American weapons in accordance with international and US laws.

It is part of a new policy decided by US President Joe Biden in February, which requests that any country receiving aid from Washington must provide written assurances that they are abiding by international and American laws.

Our findings clearly show that Israel's assurances are neither credible nor reliable, and that it is using US weapons in violation of both international and US law
Ramzi Kaiss, Lebanon researcher for HRW

The State Department is then tasked with producing a report assessing the credibility of those assurances.

“Our findings clearly show that Israel's assurances are neither credible nor reliable, and that it is using US weapons in violation of both international and US law,” Ramzi Kaiss, Lebanon researcher for HRW, told The National.

Calls have grown for a suspension of US military aid over concerns that Israel is breaching international law, as its relentless bombardment of Gaza in the past seven months has killed more than 34,800 Palestinian and caused famine across the enclave.

The conflict has spilt over into south Lebanon, which is witnessing daily exchanges of fire between Hamas ally Hezbollah and Israel.

Mr Kaiss cited several reports of violations of international law using US-supplied weapons in Lebanon, including a white phosphorus attack revealed by The Washington Post, that injured several civilians in a village in south Lebanon, which the right group said should be investigated as a war crime.

“There have been multiple reports showing evidence that the Israeli military is unlawfully employing US weapons,” Mr Kaiss said.

“In response to these findings, the United States should immediately stop arms sales and military assistance to Israel.”

International Criminal Court case?

Israel said the strike targeted “a significant terrorist operative” of the Jamaa Islamiya, a Lebanese group close to Hamas, along with “additional terrorists who were with him”.

HRW said it found “no evidence of a military target at the site”, and that the Israeli strike “targeted a residential structure that housed the Emergency and Relief Corps of the Lebanese Succour Association, a non-governmental humanitarian organisation”.

Jamaa Islamiya later denied having ties to the emergency responders, and the association told AFP it had no affiliation with any Lebanese political organisation.

“Israeli forces used a US weapon to conduct a strike that killed seven civilian relief workers in Lebanon who were merely doing their jobs,” Mr Kaiss said.

This is the third Israeli strike in Lebanon that HRW has documented as a breach of international law in Lebanon.

In October, the rights group concluded that the Israeli attack that killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and injured six others was “apparently deliberate” and thus “a war crime”.

In November, it said the killing of three children and their grandmother in south Lebanon was “an apparent war crime.”

In April, Lebanon’s Council of Ministers issued a decision instructing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to file a declaration providing the International Criminal Court with jurisdiction to investigate war crimes committed in Lebanon since October 7.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to sign the document for the decision to be effective.

“This would grant the ICC jurisdiction to investigate the reports of deliberate attacks on journalists, indiscriminate use of white phosphorus, and targeting of civilians in Lebanon,” Mr Kaiss said.

“Though it is a long process, giving the International Criminal Court to have jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute war crimes committed in Lebanon would be a clear path towards accountability,” he added.

Updated: May 07, 2024, 5:58 PM