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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hezbollah's Dangerous Ball Bearings

By Michael Kraft

In a rather unusual story, the Reuters new agency reported that the Human Rights Watch criticized Hezbollah’s practice of packing ball bearings into the rockets it fires at Israel as a violation of international humanitarian law and probable war crimes.

The Reuters report said that some of the Kutyusha rockets fired into Haifa Sunday and Monday contained hundreds of metal ball bearings that are of limited use against military targets but “cause great harm to civilians and civilian property. The ball bearings lodge in the body and cause serious harm.”

The Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued yesterday in New York, said “ attacking civilian areas indiscriminately is a serious violation of international law and can constitute a war crime….Hezbollah’s use of warheads that have limited military use and cause grievous suffering to victims only makes the crime worse.”

The story was unusual in that it was one of the few that have reported that the terrorist groups attacking Israelis are not using only explosives but also pieces of metal intended to deliberately cause pain and suffering to victims who are not killed outright. The Hamas makers of the suicide bomb belts routinely pack the bombs with nuts and bolts and nails. There also have been reports that the metal fragments are sometimes dipped into a pesticide, in order to maximize the damage to the victims and make it more difficult for doctors to effectively treat their patients. However there has been little public reporting in the western media of this tactic, which causes torture to the victims who survive the original blast and additional agony for their families and friends.

The Israeli press has occasionally mentioned this practice but the government has not dwelt on it, perhaps to avoid adding to public concerns about these threats.

The Reuters story also was relatively unusual in that it reported a human rights organization’s statement criticizing terrorists rather than Israel.

A quick Google and Yahoo search indicated that this report was barely picked up by the print media, with the notable exception of a newspaper paper in the United Arab Republic. Other papers did report, however an earlier Human Rights Watch that called on the Israelis to provide more detail on a bombing that killed 16 civilians in a convoy near the Lebanese village of Marwahin on July 16.

Human Rights Watch has issued protests in the past of the Hamas use of suicide bombers against Israelis, including a detailed report in November 2002 that mentioned the use of bolts and nails and shrapnel packed into the bombs.

Hezbollah’s adoption of the Hamas tactic is another element in the determined Israeli efforts to root out as many of the Hezbollah rockets as possible.

The packing of ball bearings into the Hezbollah rockets also illustrates that the rocket attacks that the Haifa last weekend and again today are not about retaliating for Israeli attacks on the Hezbollah infrastructure and the Lebanese bridges and other infrastructure. Rather, they are a deliberate effort to kill and maim civilians, not accidental fallout or “collateral damage.” It does not bode well for a quick diplomatic or peaceful resolution of the current crisis.
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