Jan 29, 2007
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israel's use of U.S.-made cluster bombs in last year's war in Lebanon may have violated agreements with the United States governing their use, the State Department said Monday.
"There may -- likely could have been some violations," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The State Department has sent a report to Congress laying out the preliminary findings, he said.
Agreements under the Arms Export Control Act govern use of munitions sold by the United States. Those agreements are confidential.
There is no international treaty in effect regulating cluster bombs, according to Human Rights Watch, but their use is restricted under international humanitarian law. Nations are expected to clean up areas where they used cluster bombs once a conflict ends.
Enormous collateral damage and civilian casualties from Israel's war with Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon caused an outcry by rights groups and Arab governments about the use of cluster bombs and prompted the U.S. investigation.
Cluster munitions used in Lebanon were fired from artillery shells, with each shell carrying more than 600 of the cluster bombs, according to Human Rights Watch. The larger shell bursts open near the ground, scattering the bomblets.
Human Rights Watch reported those used by Israel in Lebanon were usually fired in a volley of six shells, scattering almost 4,000 bomblets on a square kilometer.
The United Nations Mine Action Coordination Center of South Lebanon estimates 1 million unexploded cluster munitions remain scattered in southern Lebanon. The center estimates they'll be cleared by December of this year.
As of January 18, 30 people have been killed by the unexploded munitions in Lebanon, the center reports.
Hezbollah also used cluster munitions during the war, Human Rights Watch says, firing Chinese-made cluster rockets into Israel.
McCormack said that Israel cooperated with the investigation but that the U.S. also used other sources of information.
He stressed that the findings were preliminary. Any further investigation or action against the Israeli government would be determined in consultations with Congress, he said.
"We do take our obligations under the law seriously," McCormack said, adding the fact the Bush administration sent the report to Congress was evidence of that.
The Associated Press reported that Washington banned the sale of cluster bombs to Israel in 1982 after finding the Israeli military misused them during the war in Lebanon that year. That ban lasted six years.
David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, acknowledged Israel's cooperation with the investigation and defended Israel's use of the weapons.
"Israel provided a detailed response to the administration's request for information on our use to halt Hezbollah's unprovoked ... fire against our civilian population centers. Israel suffered heavy casualties in these attacks and acted as any government would in exercising its right for self-defense," he said.
In Jerusalem, Israel Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev told Reuters: "Israel takes the concerns raised by the U.S. very seriously. In our response, we have been as detailed, as forthcoming and transparent as possible."