LONDON – Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Israel of war crimes, saying it broke international law by deliberately destroying Lebanon's civilian infrastructure during its recent war with Hezbollah guerrillas.
The human rights group said initial evidence, including the pattern and scope of the Israeli attacks, number of civilian casualties, widespread damage and statements by Israeli officials "indicate that such destruction was deliberate and part of a military strategy, rather than 'collateral damage."'
Amnesty International, whose delegates monitored the fighting in both Israel and Lebanon, said Israel violated international laws banning direct attacks on civilians and barring indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks.
"The scale of the destruction was just extraordinary," said Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera, who visited Lebanon during the war and co-authored the report.
"There is clear evidence of disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks."
The group urged the United Nations to look into whether both combatants, Israel and Hezbollah, broke international law.
Amnesty International said it would address Hezbollah's attacks on Israel separately.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said his country acted legally.
"Israel's actions in Lebanon were in accordance with recognized norms of behavior during conflicts and with relevant international law," he said. "Unlike Hezbollah, we did not deliberately target the Lebanese civilian population. On the contrary, under very difficult circumstances, we tried to be as surgical as is humanly possible in targeting the Hezbollah terrorist organization."
Regev said that Lebanese infrastructure was "targeted only when that infrastructure was being exploited by the Hezbollah machine, and this is in accordance with the rules of war."
Israel suffered international condemnation when it attacked targets in southern Lebanon hours after Hezbollah guerrillas operating there killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two in a cross-border raid July 12.
The Israeli Defense Force has said that between that raid and the Aug. 14 U.N.-brokered cease-fire, it launched more than 7,000 air attacks on Lebanese targets and the navy conducted about 2,500 bombardments.
The United Nations children's fund, UNICEF, estimates that some 1,183 people died, mostly civilians and about a third of them children, while the Lebanese Higher Relief Council says 4,054 people were injured and 970,000 displaced. U.N. officials reported that around 15,000 civilian homes were destroyed.