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Israel must reexamine use of cluster bombs, committee says

[Lebanon] Cluster bombs gathered to be destroyed by mine sweepers in the suburbs of Tyre city in southern Lebanon, 6 October 2006. Unexploded ordnance in southern Lebanon continues to pose great risks to civilians returning to their villages, according to
Up to a million cluster bombs lie scattered in the fields of southern Lebanon. (Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

Israel's use of cluster bombs during the July 2006 war in Lebanon violated international law with regards to protecting civilians, an Israeli committee of inquiry said a year and a half after the end of the conflict between Israel and the armed wing of the Lebanese political party Hezbollah.

[Read this report in Arabic]

The Winograd Committee said it did not find any evidence to prove that soldiers fired cluster bombs at civilian targets or that civilians were injured by the bomblets during the war, but it did say that firing the bombs at built-up areas - even if they were being used by Hezbollah as military posts at the time - "does not comply with the rationale on which the restrictions [in Israeli and international law] on the use of cluster [bombs] is based."

The committee, set up by the Israeli government to investigate the war, found that firing the bombs into residential areas, even if the residents had left, was not an "acceptable widening" of the rules, as civilians would be hurt.

The Winograd Comittee had five members, who were appointed by the cabinet about a month after the war ended, and was headed by retired judge Eliyahu Winograd. The committee’s mandate was to investigate and reach conclusion on the conduct of political leaders as well as the military and defence systems.

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Fields of Fire: Cluster bombs in Lebanon - Arabic - Play video (Media Player)
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Israeli military clears itself of cluster bomb misuse in Lebanon
UN envoy asks for records of cluster bomb strikes

It was to "operate autonomously and independently" and had the power to subpoena witnesses. While it could make recommendations - and take them public – they were not necessarily legally binding.

The committee heard testimony from 75 witnesses, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and military officers. It released an interim report on 30 April 2007, and its final report was released on 30 January 2008.

In the final report, it said that the cluster bombs were inaccurate and spread out over a wide area; not all the bomblets exploded and continue to cause harm long after they were fired.

About 90 percent of the cluster bombs were fired in the last days of the war, when it was clear a ceasefire would soon be announced. Over four million bomblets were fired during the war, according to the UN.

30 killed, 200 injured

Since the formal end of the war on 8 September 2006 at least 30 people have been killed and 200 injured by unexploded bombs.

The committee said it was "vital" that the Israeli military clarify its rules for using the clusters in the future, noting that there were deviations from the guidelines for use during the war, caused, at least in part, by unclear orders and commands.

Photo: Dina Debbas/IRIN
Marwa, an 11-year-old from Aita Shaab in southern Lebanon, receiving treatment last year for injuries stemming from a cluster bomblet that exploded while she was playing with it

"We recommend that in this matter, [the army] reexamine its rules and principles which are supposed to be applicable to the Israel Defense Force regarding the use of cluster fire," the committee said.

It also said that special attention must be paid to the need to minimise harm to civilians after any war ends as well as to developing a system of documenting the use of the weapon, presumably so that the information can be used afterwards in de-mining efforts.

The committee proposed that non-military personnel should be involved in the reexamination and that, wherever possible, the new guidelines be published for the general public.

The section of the report on the cluster bombs was a special addendum to the chapter on Israel and international law during the war.

UN criticism

UN officials have criticized Israel's refusal to hand over strike data on the cluster bombs used, while de-mining teams in southern Lebanon say the information would aid their efforts.

"I find it hard to understand why Israel doesn't give the coordinates and maps [of the cluster bomb sites]. Maybe it thinks it will show the haphazard way in which it used the cluster bombs," said Amnon Vidan, from Amnesty International in Israel.

"It's disrespect for human life - it cannot be justified by military means," he said.

An Israeli defence official, Shlomo Dror, told IRIN: "Let them [the de-miners] ask Hezbollah where their launch sites were, and that's where they will find the clusters, as we only shot clusters at areas where they fired from."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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