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NADIM HOURY INTERVIEW - Wednesday 26th July, 2006

GEORGE NEGUS: Nadim, things aren't looking too bad where you are at the moment, but how are things in the rest of Beirut? How bad is the destruction?

NADIM HOURY, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: The destruction in the southern suburbs of Beirut is truly astonishing. We went to visit it three days ago and an area - a very highly, densely populated area - I would say has been destroyed to the amount of 60-70%. It's really astounding. Beirut itself, the Shi'ite section, but specifically the southern suburbs, have been completely destroyed. Some other parts of the city have relatively been left intact.

GEORGE NEGUS: So how are people making do? How are they, in fact, surviving, because hundreds of thousands are flooding into Beirut. Where are they being accommodated, how are they being fed, clothed and looked after at all, let alone medical treatment?

NADIM HOURY: There is a massive population of displaced in Lebanon right now. People initially, as you correctly said, moved from the south to Beirut. The southern suburbs were destroyed, so people have been distributed into schools. There at least 120 schools in Beirut right now open and accepting internally displaced people. These schools are full. They have been moved now to the outskirts of the city and at the same time there are a lot of people in Lebanon and the rest of the country that have opened up their houses to them.

GEORGE NEGUS: We actually heard a story of a couple of thousand people living in a supermarket carpark. Is that how bad things are?

NADIM HOURY: Correct. I actually visited that carpark. It's basically the third and fourth basement, and there are around 2,000 people living in there right now.

GEORGE NEGUS: What about aid workers? I imagine with the bombing continuing and unpredictable, life is actually very dangerous for anybody trying to provide aid for these people who are flooding into the city.

NADIM HOURY: The major concern is really provision of aid to people in the southern part of the country - in Tyre, but more specifically in the villages in the interior and along the border. Just on Sunday night, two Lebanese Red Cross ambulances were directly hit by Israeli missiles. Luckily, the Red Cross staff was only injured and did not die.

GEORGE NEGUS: From a human rights point of view, what exactly can a group like yours do, what can you actually watch, as Human Rights Watch, when you have a humanitarian disaster of such a massive scale?

NADIM HOURY: As you correctly mention, we're not a humanitarian group, we are a human rights group, and we focus, in times of war, on, really, two main issues. The first is under the laws of war, warring parties have a principle to distinguish between civilians and military. To target civilians would be a war crime, and that is really what we're trying to watch.

With respect to the high toll of civilians that have died already, what is Israel doing? What are its strategies, what is it targeting? Is it trying to harm civilians or not? Is it taking all precautions to avoid civilian injuries? That's one area.

The second area, which also international humanitarian law has something to say about, is the actual provision of safe passages of convoys of aid to civilians caught in the middle, but also civilian convoys, and safe passage outside of these areas for the civilians, and these are all areas that we are very concerned about.


GEORGE NEGUS: So what have you discovered? Because the Israelis claim that they're targeting Hezbollah connections and locations only. Do you believe that they are in fact targeting civilians at this point? Do you believe they are allowing safe passage for civilians?

NADIM HOURY: Just taking the first point, I don't like to use the word 'targeting' because that implies some sort of intention, but we have documented time and time again, by conducting over 100 interviews with people fleeing these areas, people injured in hospitals, clearly, Israel is not just hitting military targets - there are a lot of civilians and a lot of civilian objects being targeted. And that is undeniable when you start talking to people. With respect to the issue of safe passage, Israel is not allowing safe passage to people stuck in the southern villages. One can talk of...

We've had many calls from villagers in the deep south where they've been running out of fuel oil to run their generators, so even hospitals in some of these villages are running out of power. We've heard cries from villagers asking for water and other food supplies, but also - and, really, what we're concerned about - we've heard numerous stories of civilian convoys trying to leave the border area and being hit along the way.


GEORGE NEGUS: So whether or not the civilians are being deliberately targeted, civilians are being killed in the course of this conflict, quite clearly, whether it's by accident or design.

NADIM HOURY: Correct. And it's also not a question simply of 'deliberately'. There is something under international law which is "indiscriminate attacks". So basically attacks that target a certain area where you know there is a very, very high likelihood that civilians are going to be injured - that is also prohibited.

GEORGE NEGUS: So would you go as far as to say that you believe the Israelis are, in fact, in breach of UN covenants and also international humanitarian law as Jan Egeland from the UN has suggested in the last couple of days?

NADIM HOURY: Our investigation is continuing, but we have seen a number of cases. We like to talk about facts, specific incidents. We have documented a few incidents where, clearly, something went wrong and there's at least a very good presumption that there was a violation of humanitarian law. We prefer not to make broad statements at this point and rather just document them, case by case.

GEORGE NEGUS: What can you do anyway, Nadim? It would appear the Israelis feel as though they have a free hand. If you were to now be able to document and provide evidence of this sort of stuff, what could be done?

NADIM HOURY: The rules of law are really known and all the parties should take into account... they should really try to respect them, and by documenting them, even while the conflict is going, we hope there will be pressure - pressure on Israel, pressure from within Israel, to restrain itself and in the same way we have criticised Hezbollah for the attacks that it's using. And we hope that - we cannot control whether the fighting will go on or not. What we're trying to promote, what we're trying to lobby for, is that the rules of war are very clear and they should be abided by.

GEORGE NEGUS: It sounds to me like you're saying, where both sides are concerned, the rules have been thrown out the window.

NADIM HOURY: Correct. Yes, that is absolutely correct.

GEORGE NEGUS: So there's no reason to believe this situation is going to alter then, is there?

NADIM HOURY: We hope it will. At least, we hope that. There are certain breaches that we've documented - the issue of safe passage of civilians out of the stranded areas, the access of humanitarian convoys to civilians in southern villages. These are things that can happen. We don't have to get into the macro politics for every single issue. These rules are clear, they need to be abided by, and people need to put pressure on Israel and on Hezbollah to respect these rules.

GEORGE NEGUS: Nadim, your organisation has, in fact, put out a press release claiming that the Israelis are using cluster bombs indiscriminately. What evidence do you have of that? That's a very serious charge.

NADIM HOURY: We have proof that Israel has used cluster bombs in the village of Blida around six days ago. The evidence we have collected is really from multiple sources. The first source is actually a family from Blida that escaped and is currently hospitalised and we were able to do extensive interviews with them. And from what they were able to describe in great detail, it clearly looked to us - and we had a member of staff that's actually an expert on arms - it looked like they used cluster weapons, cluster munitions.

At the same time, a couple of days previous to that, my colleagues that are working in northern Israel were able to take pictures of a cluster munition next to an IDF artillery, and this munition was actually, basically, ready to go. On both ends we were able to document that. And I should say, after our statement, the IDF did issue a statement saying they do not deny using cluster bombs.

What they're trying to say is, "You can use cluster bombs, "but you cannot use them in areas where there are civilians "because of the indiscriminate nature of these weapons." The case that we documented clearly was used against civilians and clearly they were injured.


GEORGE NEGUS: The Israelis have denied they attacked that UN headquarters in the south and those four people were killed deliberately. They said they didn't deliberately target that building. What evidence do you have about that? Is there any light you can throw on that situation, because people are now wondering who to believe.

NADIM HOURY ,:Even before this incident, they had been... some of their observation posts had been attacked by the Israeli defence forces - I think up to nine times - and there had been no casualties at that point. So, clearly, this is not the first time this has happened. The observation point that was attacked - before it was actually hit, there were reports there might have been 14 strikes in and around it. These are serious allegations, but for us the main point is what this shows is that these attacks are in many ways being indiscriminate.

GEORGE NEGUS: It's interesting to hear you talk about your colleagues in northern Israel, so it would be wrong to presume all the guilt is on one side.

> NADIM HOURY: Correct. No-one is saying all the killings are on one side. We have issued press releases condemning the use by Hezbollah of weapons called ball bearings, so we do not take sides in conflicts. Our main issue is to make sure the rules of war, the conduct of the warring parties, respect a set of rules known as the Geneva Conventions, and those rules are essential to protect civilians. The ratio of civilian deaths in Lebanon is truly astounding at this point.

GEORGE NEGUS: What would you say that breakdown is at the moment between Lebanese deaths and Israeli deaths? Do you have any idea what it is?

NADIM HOURY: From what I have been able to understand, the breakdown is almost 10 to 1, so as of yesterday evening, I think there were around 47 Israeli civilian deaths and over 450, 460 Lebanese deaths, but the numbers are changing all the time and there are multiple sources.

GEORGE NEGUS: And, clearly, from our point of view, everybody else's point of view, even one death is one too many.

NADIM HOURY: Exactly.

GEORGE NEGUS: Nadim, thank you very much for your time and we will stay in touch.

NADIM HOURY: You're welcome. Take care.