The tragedy of Lebanon continues to unfold, with or without Israeli involvement...--Wendy in Washington
Lebanon: Fighting at Refugee Camp Kills Civilians
(Beirut, May 23, 2007)--Civilians in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp
have been killed and wounded in escalating clashes between the Lebanese
army and the Palestinian armed faction Fatah al-Islam, Human Rights
Watch said today.
Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that the Lebanese army has
repeatedly shelled the densely populated Palestinian refugee camp with
tanks and mortars. Lebanese officials charged that the militants are using
the camp's residents to shield themselves.
The Lebanese army's assault on Nahr al-Bared began Sunday after armed
militants from Fatah al-Islam killed 27 soldiers in ambushes and clashes.
From inside the camp, Fatah al-Islam militants fired rocket-propelled
grenades and machine guns at army posts on the camp perimeter.
"The indiscriminate shelling of a densely populated refugee camp can
result in a bloodbath," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at
Human Rights Watch. "The Lebanese authorities need to restore order in a
way that minimizes civilian casualties."
The number of civilians killed in the fighting remains unknown, as the
Lebanese authorities are restricting access due to the ongoing fighting.
Health personnel who have gained access to the camp have focused on
evacuating the wounded. A Lebanese Red Cross official told Human
Rights Watch that the organization transferred at least 57 wounded from
the camp to hospitals in the last 48 hours of fighting, including 40 on
Tuesday. According to Reuters, at least 27 civilians have been killed since
Sunday, as well as 22 militants and 32 soldiers.
Wounded civilians evacuated from the camp told Human Rights Watch
that the Lebanese army's tank and artillery shells were falling
indiscriminately on certain neighborhoods in the camp, killing and
injuring civilians and damaging houses, water tanks, health dispensaries
and mosques. Several other civilians told Human Rights Watch that they
were injured by unidentified sniper fire often coming from areas outside
Under principles of international humanitarian law, warring parties are
prohibited from using means and methods of attack that cannot
discriminate between civilians and combatants, including indiscriminate
shelling. Nor may they carry out attacks that are expected to cause loss of
civilian life that is disproportionate to expected military gain.
Marwan Hamadeh, the Lebanese minister of telecommunications, accused
Fatah al-Islam of using the camp's population as hostages. Using civilians
to shield one's own forces from attack is a serious violation of
international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said. Placing forces
or weapons in the vicinity of heavily populated areas can also result in
violations of international humanitarian law.
"Fatah al-Islam militants must not hide among civilians, and the Lebanese
army must take better precautions to prevent needless civilian deaths,"
The clashes have led to a rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis inside the
camp. According to evacuated camp residents interviewed by Human
Rights Watch, the army shelling destroyed two of the camp's main water
containers, as well as electrical generators and health dispensaries. Food,
medical and water supplies are running low, despite efforts by the
Lebanese Red Cross, Palestinian Red Crescent, International Committee
of the Red Cross and the United Nations to bring in supplies.
On Tuesday afternoon, a convoy carrying humanitarian supplies from the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was shelled as it tried to enter the camp during a short-lived ceasefire. An UNRWA staff member
participating in the convoy told Human Rights Watch that he saw three mortar shells hit the six-vehicle convoy, damaging three of them.
UNRWA has reported two civilian casualties, while an eyewitness
estimated that the number may be higher.
On Tuesday night, the Associated Press reported that thousands of
refugees began leaving the camp following a lull in the fighting.
"The Lebanese army and the Fatah al-Islam fighters should establish a
safe passage to allow the civilians to leave the camp and let humanitarian
supplies for civilians in," Stork said.
Humanitarian law also requires that whenever circumstances permit,
warring parties must without delay take all measures to collect and
evacuate the dead.
More at: http://www.hrw.org