US inquiry into use of cluster bombs

Cluster bombs dropped by Israel in southern Lebanon. (Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

TEL AVIV, 31 Jan 2007 (IRIN) - Israel may have violated agreements regarding the use of American-made cluster bombs during its war in Lebanon in July 2006, the US State Department said on Monday.

Spokesman Sean McCormack did not give details about the possible violations but said the results of a preliminary investigation were being forwarded to Congress.

During the war, Israel used cluster munitions, possibly dropping one million such bombs, including in civilian areas.

Many of the munitions - according to the United Nations, up to 40 percent - did not explode and now pose a hazard to residents of south Lebanon. Unexploded ordnance has killed at least 27 people and injured more than 143 since the war ended.

Cluster bombs are anti-personnel weapons that spray bomblets over a wide area, in an intentionally imprecise manner, when they explode.

Large-scale de-mining is taking place in areas affected by the bombs and two Belgian soldiers, part of the UN Interim Mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on the Israel-Lebanon border, were wounded while de-mining on Monday near the southern Lebanese city of Tyre.

During the third donor conference on Lebanon in Paris on 25 January, large sums of money were allocated, including by the US, for cleaning up Lebanon and removing the dangerous munitions.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said his country was taking “seriously [the] concerns raised by Washington” and was “dealing with the concerns professionally and seriously”. He added that Israel was being “as transparent and as detailed as possible” in its dealings with the US.

According to Regev, the Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz had ordered an internal investigation into the matter, but declined to comment further.

When exporting weapons the US may demand restrictions on their usage. Cluster bombs are not banned by international law, but countries are banned from using them in civilian areas. In the past, the US has investigated Israel’s use of weapons and the Reagan Administration placed a six-year moratorium on exporting cluster bombs to Israel in 1982 during the first Lebanon war.

New York-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) called this week for “an immediate cut-off of all US cluster munitions sales to Israel” in light of the findings.

“We’ve never seen use of cluster munitions that was so extensive and dangerous to civilians,” said Steve Goose of HRW, referring to Israel’s use of the weapon during July’s war with Hezbollah.

Also this week, Amnesty International urged the US government to ensure that the Israeli authorities hand over maps of the areas in south Lebanon which were hit by cluster bombs during last year’s war, so as to reduce the potential for further civilian casualties.

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