(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Israeli military clears itself of cluster bomb misuse in Lebanon

[Lebanon] The Mines Advisory Group detonates 47 cluster bombs in Al-Malkiyye, south Lebanon. [Date picture taken: 09/01/2006]
Serene Assir/IRIN

Israel's military advocate-general, Brig-Gen Avihai Mendelblit, has said the military's use of cluster munitions during the conflict in Lebanon in 2006 was in accordance with international humanitarian law. Human rights groups and the UN had previously condemned the use of the bombs.

In a statement issued on 24 December, the Israeli military said it used cluster munitions to fight Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militant group, which had "heavily camouflaged" its launching sites for firing rockets at Israel.

The Israeli military "had to make use of weaponry which allowed for an immediate response to rocket fire while providing maximum coverage within the targeted area," the statement said, adding that the weapon itself "conforms to international law".
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The " majority of the cluster munitions were fired at open and uninhabited areas", but in some cases the military hit residential areas, responding to rocket attacks by Hezbollah. In Maroon a-Ras, the bombs were used to "allow the evacuation" of Israeli soldiers.

Call for international investigation

  Fields of Fire: Cluster bombs in Lebanon

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Amnon Vidan of Amnesty International in Israel said he was not surprised by the decision, noting that in such cases, rather than have the army investigate itself, it was better that an international investigation take place.

"The amount of cluster bombs used in civilian areas, as well as testimonies by soldiers about the use of the bombs, and Israel's refusal to hand over to the UN maps of the locations where it fired the bombs to help demining efforts," all point to different conclusions than those reached by the military, he told IRIN.

Cluster bombs are anti-personnel weapons which spray bomblets over a wide area, in an intentionally imprecise manner, when they explode. The bombs themselves are not banned by international law, but countries are prohibited from using them in civilian areas.

UN official condemned Israel in 2006

In August 2006, Jan Egeland, then the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, had harshly condemned Israel's use of cluster bombs, calling it "shocking and completely immoral."

"Ninety percent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution," he said, adding that populated areas, such as homes and agricultural land were now covered with unexploded bomblets.

According to UN estimates, about 40 percent of the cluster munitions fired did not explode, although a major clearance operation has been under way.

Israel 's conflict with Lebanon - which was sparked by a cross-border raid by Hezbollah which had captured two Israeli soldiers - lasted 34 days, until a ceasefire was declared in mid August. Over 1,200 people died in the fighting, mostly Lebanese.

Since the end of the war, over 30 people have been killed and over 200 injured by unexploded ordnance left over from the fighting in Lebanon, according to UN statistics.

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