Beirut: Agencies: (17/2/2008): Human Rights Watch said Sunday that Israel breached international law when it bombed Southern Lebanon with cluster weapons during its campaign against Hezbollah in 2006.
Israel said it used the weapons in "built up areas" only if they contained rocket- or missile-launching sites, and only after warning area residents.
New York-based Human Rights Watch demanded an independent inquiry to determine whether individual Israeli commanders "bear responsibility for war crimes."
A 131-page report, "Flooding South Lebanon: Israel’s Use of Cluster Munitions in Lebanon in July and August 2006," claimed Israel violated international humanitarian law with hundreds of "indiscriminate and disproportionate cluster munitions attacks on Lebanon." It released the report ahead of the opening Monday of a 120-nation conference in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, on a proposed convention to ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
The proposed treaty also seeks to set up a system aimed at helping survivors, clearing contaminated land of the unexploded munitions and destroying stockpiles of the weapons.
The convention was launched by Austria, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru and the Holy See at a conference in Oslo, Norway, last year. Some 41 of the 76 states in the world that stockpile cluster munitions are taking part in the negotiations, along with a majority of the weapon producers.
The US, Russia, China and Israel – all important producers and stockpilers of cluster bombs – oppose a ban on the weapons and have blocked efforts to negotiate one at the UN.
At a news conference Sunday, Human Rights Watch said Israel had rained as many as 4.6 million sub munitions, or cluster bomblets, across South Lebanon – mostly in the final days of the war.
The report’s lead author, Bonnie Docherty, said the UN must investigate whether Israel deliberately targeted civilians with the munitions. "Ninety percent of the strikes occurred in the last three days [of the war when] Israel knew a cease-fire was imminent," she added.
"Many, many of those strikes occurred on towns and villages across South Lebanon. Munitions left behind by those attacks continue to kill civilians today," she said.
Steve Goose, director of the Arms division at Human Rights Watch, said unexploded cluster "bomblets … have killed and maimed almost 200 people since the war ended."
"The Lebanon story is just the latest example of something we’ve have seen over and over again: Whenever cluster munitions are used, large numbers of civilians get killed and injured," Goose said.
\Israel said Sunday it had used cluster munitions in South Lebanon in direct response to Hezbollah launching over 4,000 rockets and missiles against Israeli civilians – "as well as cluster munitions."
"Israel’s operations were directed against legitimate military objectives. The majority of cluster munitions used by Israel were directed against areas which were not built up. In those cases where cluster munitions were used against built-up areas, it was done toward rocket/missile launching sites and only after numerous warnings were given to the local population," said Arye Mekel, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman.
"The use of cluster munitions is not prohibited under international law," he said.
An Israeli report on the 2006 war released last month raised questions about the army’s use of the weapons, noting a lack of "operational discipline, oversight and control."