LONDON – Hezbollah militants broke international law by firing thousands of rockets into Israel and killing dozens of civilians during the recent conflict with Israel, Amnesty International charged Thursday.
The human rights group called for a United Nations inquiry into what it called war crimes by Israel and Hezbollah, but its report focused on the actions of the Lebanese militants during the 34-day conflict.
Hezbollah launched nearly 4,000 rockets into northern Israel in July and August, killing at least 39 civilians.
The firing of rockets into urban areas in northern Israel disregarded international laws that call for distinguishing between civilian and military targets, Amnesty said.
"Targeting civilians is a war crime. There's no gray area," said Larry Cox, Amnesty's executive director in the United States.
Although Hezbollah denies targeting Israeli civilians, it fired inaccurate rockets packed with thousands of metal ball bearings to maximize harm to noncombatants, Amnesty said.
Hezbollah had no immediate comment Thursday on the Amnesty report.
The report is Amnesty's most extensive condemnation of Hezbollah since the conflict began in July. It comes after Amnesty accused Israel of violating international law with indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon. The human rights group also previously called on Hezbollah to release two kidnapped Israeli soldiers and abstain from targeting civilians.
Violence erupted between Israel and Lebanon after Hezbollah militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12. The ensuing fighting left more than 1,000 people dead, mostly Lebanese civilians, UNICEF said.
A U.N.-brokered cease-fire in August quelled the violence and Israel and Hezbollah have mostly complied with the order, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said this week.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said he had no doubt that the Islamic militia fired rockets in a premeditated way to kill a maximum number of civilians.
"It is also important to remember that the leaders of Hezbollah have spoken on many occasions about their desire to destroy the state of Israel," Regev said.
Amnesty plans to publish additional reports studying whether Hezbollah contributed to civilian deaths in Lebanon by purposely hiding among civilians, said Nicole Choueiry, a spokesman for Amnesty in Britain.
Israel and Lebanon reject the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands making any prosecution there unlikely.