Israel prosecutors indicted three Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas yesterday on a raft of charges including helping carry out the deadly operation to snatch two soldiers that sparked a war with the Jewish state.
The three men, all in their early 20s, are also charged with murder, attempted murder and belonging to a terrorist group.
The trial opening in Nazareth District Court reflects Israel's refusal to recognize Hizbollah as a legitimate fighting force, despite the Shi'ite group's broadbased support in Lebanon and representation in the Beirut government and parliament.
"The defendants are not prisoners of war," said Justice Ministry spokesman Bishara Farran. "Hezbollah acts deliberately against civilian targets, and from within civilian populations, something that is absolutely forbidden by the laws of war."
Officials said the three Mahmoud Ali Suleiman, Mohammed Srur and Maher Qurani were captured in southern Lebanon by Israeli forces during the war, launched after Hezbollah seized the two soldiers and killed eight others in a July 12 ambush.
All three were accused of having support roles in that raid.
Srur and Qurani were charged with attempted murder. Suleiman was charged with murder for being assigned to provide covering fire, though the indictment said he did not actually shoot.
Prosecutors said the guerrillas received weapons training in Iran, Israel's arch-foe and a Hezbollah patron, and that two of them were taken prisoner while preparing to attack the Israeli forces that swept through south Lebanon during the 34-day war.
One of the two state-appointed lawyers representing the Hezbollah captives said they would probably contest the charges at a follow-up reading of the indictment slated for October 5.
"Our clients do not deny being Hezbollah fighters," attorney Smadar Ben-Natan said. "Our position is that they have the status of prisoners of war, and as such should not be tried. They should be held until a prisoner exchange is worked out."
Trying the three in open criminal court rather than in a military tribunal may signal a desire by Israeli authorities for a public reckoning that could offset unhappiness in the Jewish state with the war's inconclusive end in an August 14 truce.
While killing some 1,200 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, Israel's armed forces failed to crush Hezbollah or stop its cross-border rocket salvoes against northern Israeli communities. Israel lost 157 citizens, most of them soldiers.
Source: China Daily