Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Warning sirens sounded in Haifa again on Tuesday as more rockets hit the city. Over the last two weeks, Hizballah has fired more than 1,200 rockets at Israel, killing 17 civilians and wounding hundreds of others.
Michael Cardash, deputy head of the Israeli Police bomb disposal unit, said Hizballah is launching a variety of rockets at Israel, including an enhanced 122-millimeter Grad rocket made in China and a 220-millimeter rocket made in Syria.
The rockets are packed with 30,000 to 40,000 ball bearings designed to inflict maximum casualties when they explode.
"Anti-personnel" rockets packed with ball bearings are the most lethal kind, experts said. And it is these rockets that have been landing in Haifa.
Even from a distance of 100 meters (300 feet), the balls can go through cars, said one bomb disposal expert. In fact, it happened on Sunday: an Israeli motorist in Haifa was killed when his car was struck by the ball bearings, police sources said.
Human Rights Watch, a group that usually criticizes Israel, earlier suggested that Hizballah's firing of rockets packed with ball bearings into civilian populations was a "serious violation of international humanitarian law and can constitute war crimes."
Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, also said, "Hizballah's use of warheads that have limited military use and cause grievous suffering to the victims only makes the crime worse."
Dr. Eran Tel-Or works at the trauma center of Haifa's Rambam Medical Center, where many of the people injured in Hizballah rocket attacks are taken for treatment.
Dr. Tel-Or said the ball bearings, exploding at great force, act much like bullets. Because of the "aerodynamic shape" of the ball bearings, they have much higher energy than the shrapnel that flies from the rocket itself, he said.
In Lebanon, some 390 people have been killed in Israeli bombing raids, compared with the 17 Israeli civilians killed in rocket attacks. That has prompted some of Israel's critics to complain about Israel using "disproportionate force."
But experts say there's a good reason why Israel's civilian death toll is so much lower than Lebanon's: "We were prepared for the rocket attacks," said one bomb disposal expert from the Israel Police.
Israelis already know not to gather in large crowds. Many private homes have built-in security rooms and other buildings have public shelters, he said.
Without the shelters, many more people would have been killed, he said.
Hizballah's deliberate targeting of civilians "has to be contrasted with Israel's attempts to limit the damage in Lebanon," said the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Israel repeatedly has said that it is trying to avoid civilian casualties, giving up the element of surprise in its bombing raids in order to warn civilians to flee areas that are Hizballah strongholds.
"Israel has, as it always has, tried to strike a balance between its primary obligation to protect its citizens from attack and a self-imposed obligation to do as little harm to innocents in enemy territory as possible. Would that it were the standard on both sides," JINSA said.
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