ATT.: Virginia N. Sherry

Associate Director, Human Rights Watch / Middle East

FAX: (212) 972 - 0905

The Lebanese Civilians: Caught Between Two Fires

``... He has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies ...''

``... For quartering Large Bodies of Armed Troops among us ...''

excerpts from the U.S.A Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

In our previous message to your office, we drew the attention to the presence of the Syrian army among the civilian population of Beirut and many places inside Lebanon. We also demonstrated our legitimate worry over a possible confrontation between Syria and Israel, that might be triggered by the stalemate in the peace negotiations and the continuous activities of Hizbullah in South Lebanon. The Lebanese people will inevitably pay the price of any such confrontation if it really takes place. Our worries, as will be presented, stems from a long history of violations, on behalf of the Syrian army and its allies to the U.N. charter on human rights and the Geneva conventions. Using civilians as cover or human shields in the recent activities, follow the same pattern and method of attracting world attention through the sufferings of the civilian population. Their actions in the past included:

Targeting civilians with all kinds of heavy artillery like BM21 rocket launchers, 180mm-130mm-122mm howitzers and 160mm-240mm mortars. These kinds of weapons are tended to be used in battlefields and not from civilian populated areas.

The shelling damaged many civil institutions such as hospitals, schools, orphanages and shelters (21 died in a Fayyadieh shelter and 65 died in Ashrafieh.)

Destroying the civilian infrastructure such as:

- Electricity stations (Jamhour and Bsalim distribution stations and Zouk Mkael power plant)

- Water system (Ashrafieh and Dbayehh stations)

- Communications (Addlieh and Jdiedeh centers, Aarbanieh and Jouret Al- Ballout satellite stations)

- Fuel depots (Dawra fuel depots, the explosion caused heavy destruction in an area approximately 2 Kilometers in diameter)

- Beirut, Dbayyeh and Jounieh sea ports.

- Ministries such as the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc. in addition to the Presidential Palace in Baabda.

Detention of large numbers of Lebanese civilians in Syrian prisons. We have to emphasize that the cruel and harsh detention of the Lebanese is taking place apart from Lebanon's juridicial system. The inhumane and savage treatment of the detainees is beyond any description (it is well documented by most human rights organizations especially by Amnesty International in its 1987 report, Syria: torture by security forces.)

258 car bombs exploded almost everywhere in Lebanon mainly in the Beirut area. Women and children were the main target of these explosions.

Foreign hostages: British, French, German's and mainly Americans were taken hostages by Hizbullah and other fundamentalist groups. The hostages were university professors, embassy personnel, journalists and in one case a priest. The Syrians skillfully exploited this crisis from the beginning to the very end.

Attacks on foreign embassies and its staff was another technique utilized to devoid Lebanon from its international contacts. Many embassies and ambassadors were victims of such actions like the American ambassador Meloy, French ambassador De Lamar, The American Embassy and the Iraqi Embassy.

Political assassination: This method is widely used by Syria and its allies in Lebanon. The list of such attacks is very long to be mentioned here. But, one case is enough to give a true account of how the tactic of political assassination is used to yield political capitulation. In an interview, given recently to Al-Wassat magazine (No: 226 - 27 May, 1996), the former Secretary General of the Communist Party, Mr. George Hawi said: The assassination season against the Communist Party began by killing Khalil Naous, party officer and a journalist. Then Mehdi A'mel, a party thinker who was killed in Beirut. At that time Hizbullah had their command in the old Iranian Embassy compound. Tensions were high when Suheil Tawileh was killed. Another attack killed 80 years old Houssein Mrouweh. Then Selim Yammout was killed. Finally, a vacuum bomb hit the main quarters of the Party in Al-Rmeileh area killing Dr. Hikmat Al-Amin and others. The Communist Party did not respond with the same manner but instead opened a dialogue with Al-Sayyed Mouhamed Houssein Fadlallah (Hizbullah spiritual leader) in an attempt to end the deadly series of attacks. The Communist Party, eventually, relinquished its military activities in South Lebanon to Hizbullah.

This preview indicates the inhumane strategy of utilizing civilian sufferings to serve political objectives. Human Rights Watch presented a lengthy report concerning the latest round of fighting in South Lebanon. The report was presented by Mr. Hilterman and we read about it in the Al-Nahar newspaper. Apparently, the report overlooked two main and crucial points:

It did not mention or point out the Syrian role in this crisis and to its encouragement and support to Hizbullah's activities. Money, arms and katyushas are delivered to Hizbullah through Damascus and Syrian controlled Bekaa Valley. Negotiating an end to the crisis was not possible without the direct and active participation of the Syrian leadership which holds the fundamentalists card tightly.

The report endorsed a number of recommendations to all parties concerned (except the Syrians for no clear reason) in order to take measures that would safeguard the civilians in any future conflict.

The report disregards completely the ongoing peace process and concentrates on training the fighters and soldiers on how to shoot while avoiding civilians. The report should have urged all parties to put an end to all hostilities and participate firmly in the peace negotiations, which is the only prospect for peace and security on both sides of the Lebanese-Israeli border. Obviously, Hizbullah refuses to halt its operations and rejects the peace process entirely. This position on behalf of Hizbullah has the full support of Damascus.

We present here a sample case of how Syrian army positions will endanger the Lebanese civilians in any war. The drawing attached to this report below shows the Fanar area where there are 3 schools and 2 universities that enroll an estimated 14,000 students. We have chosen the Fanar area because it shows beyond any doubt the gravity of the situation.

As a complement to our Urgent Call, and after the Israeli elections that brought a new Prime Minister and a new policy, it is evident that the negative attitudes of both Syria and Hizbullah towards peace is gaining momentum. The prospects of a military confrontation are more imminent particularly with:

Complete disrespect to April's understanding,

No cease-fire announced,

Increase in military activities (the operation that killed 5 Israeli soldiers on June 10, 1996 and the fierce artillery retaliation afterward)

Obstacles to form the observation committee,

No decision to commence with the peace negotiations.

Mr. Netanyahu considers the April understanding a license for Hizbullah to attack the Israeli army.

After the recent attacks, Gen. Amnon Shahak, the Israeli Chief of Staff announced that the Israeli army will not hesitate to attack Hizbullah even at the expense of civilian casualties, because Hizbullah have their positions very close to civilians.

Most probably, any military conflict between Syria and Israel will take place in the heart of the Lebanese civilian quarters where the Syrians have their army positioned. This will be a disaster for two obvious reasons, one is that these areas lack the proper shelters and facilities to escape to, and, second is that these areas will be overcrowded with refugees from the clashes in the south.

Based on these facts, we firmly reiterate our call to withdraw the Syrian army from Beirut and the surrounding districts as the only serious measure to avert any civilian tragedy that looms above the head of the Lebanese, we also ask you kindly to circulate our call to all those concerned with the safeness of the children and elderly people and to put them in front of their responsibilities.

Free World Youth -- Lebanon