The continuation of Israel's operation in Lebanon and the rising civilian death toll is likely "could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control," Louise Arbour, the high commissioner for human rights, told the New York Times.
“International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligations to protect civilians during hostilities,’’ she said.
“Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians,” she said in a statement released by her office in Geneva. “Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged innocent civilians is unjustifiable.”
“Hizbullah fighters too are bound by the rules of international humanitarian law, and they must not target civilian areas,” it said, referring to the indiscriminate shelling of Israeli cities.
The statement was issued following calls for a cease-fire by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora who warned of a humanitarian crisis in his country.
Siniora said over 300 civilians have been killed by Israeli air strikes on his country.
Europe fearing response by Islamists
If the death toll in Lebanon continues to rise, pressure on Israel to stop its operation will increase and so will pressure on Washington to press its ally to stop the offensive.
According to a Washington Post report, European officials are concerned that the Bush administration's siding with Israel will fuel tension between the west and Arab nations, encourage Islamists to carry out terror attacks against western targets, strengthen support for Osama Bin Laden, and escalate the fighting between coalition forces and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The one thing that is guaranteed to send the Arab world and the Persian world over the edge is for the US to be seen ultimately to be doing what they always believed - to be fully in cahoots with Israel," a European official told the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity. "The danger of allowing it to continue is that the United States is more and more despised. It's not like the US had a good reputation within the region to start with."
The White House denied it is coordinating with Israel or "sitting around at the war table saying 'Do this, this and this,'" press secretary Tony Snow said.
"We're not colluding, we're not cooperating, we're not conspiring, we're not doing any of that," he told reporters. "The Israelis are doing what they think is necessary to protect their borders."
The State Department also denied that the Bush administration is backing Israel's military operation in Lebanon.
"I don't think anybody disagrees on the desire to end the violence in the region, but let's remember what the root causes of the violence are," spokesman Sean McCormack said.
A senior administration official told the Post that it is too early to speak of a diplomatic solution. "The conditions that the G-8 (Group of Eight industrialized nations) talked about are not in place to get a real and permanent cease-fire that addresses the fundamental problems of the region," he told the newspaper.
He said Israel faces "a terrible problem" because Hizbullah is operating from within civilian areas. "They make mistakes, and there are accidents," he said. "It is impossible for them to avoid all the collateral damage."