[JURIST] Top UN officials Friday condemned Israel, the Palestinians and Lebanese Hezbollah militants for intentionally inflicting civilian casualties on one another contrary to international humanitarian law as violence continued to escalate [ABC report] in the Middle East, with Israel stepping up military action against Lebanese targets and Hezbollah militants attacking Haifa with rockets. Fighting has intensified in recent days as Israel presses for the return of a soldier captured by Palestinians in late June and two others seized by Hezbollah militants earlier this week. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said through a spokesman [text] in Geneva that
while Israel has legitimate security concerns, international humanitarian law requires that parties to a conflict refrain from attacks directed against civilian objects. In particular, they have an obligation to exercise precaution and to respect the proportionality principle in all military operations so as to prevent unnecessary suffering among the civilian population. The prohibition on targeting civilians is also being violated by Hezbollah.The spokesman said Arbour urged those detaining the captive Israeli soldiers to secure their immediate and safe release, which "would be instrumental in bringing the current crisis to a halt." Also in Geneva, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland [official profile] told reporters on Friday that the latest Israeli actions, in particular its move to blockade Lebanese ports, were legally problematic:
The law is simple. Civilians must be shielded. Civilians are protected persons. Civilian infrastructure is protected...If sealing off borders, if sealing off harbors, if bombing airports first and foremost means that innocent third parties cannot receive goods, cannot travel, cannot get to health facilities, cannot get their daily needs met ... Israel`s blockade is obviously wrong.... It is in violation of international law, and it is also in violation of common sense...You are supposed to do something to the armed group. You are not supposed to hurt the children of people who have nothing to do with this.He additionally called for an end to rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, and for all those kidnapped to be released.
Both statements echoed comments [text] made Thursday in Rome by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said:
I condemn all actions which target civilians, or which unduly endanger them due to their disproportionate or indiscriminate character. I would like to remind the parties that under the law of armed conflict, attacks must not be directed against civilian objects. In particular, they have an obligation to exercise precaution and to respect the proportionality principle in all military operations so as to prevent unnecessary suffering among the civilian population. I call on all parties to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law and international agreements.Annan has sent a diplomatic team [UN News report] to the Middle East seeking to try and defuse the crisis, and the Security Council Friday called on all parties to cooperate with their mission [UN News report]. The UN News Centre has more.