Cluster Weapons Used by Hezbollah

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 20, 2006

The Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah fired cluster munitions during its 33-day war with Israel last summer, in strikes that caused one death and 12 injuries, according to a report released this week by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. The group expressed alarm over the rising supply of these controversial weapons to non-state armed groups.

"We are disturbed to discover that not only Israel but also Hezbollah used cluster munitions in the recent conflict, at a time when many countries are turning away from this kind of weapon precisely because of its impact on civilians," said Steve Goose, the Washington-based director of the Human Rights Watch Arms Division. "Use of cluster munitions is never justified in civilian-populated areas because they are inaccurate and unreliable," he said.

Cluster munitions endanger civilians by spreading bomblets over a wide radius, causing casualties and leaving unexploded duds that often kill or maim after a military conflict has ended. While the weapons are not banned under international law, humanitarian groups argue that their use is not justified in inhabited areas.

Legal analysts also say international humanitarian laws of war oblige warring parties to distinguish between combatants and civilians, to ensure that any military advantage gained by the use of cluster bombs outweighs the possible harm to civilians.

Israeli police told Human Rights Watch they had documented 113 cluster rockets that were fired at Israel during the fighting, which started July 12 and ended with an Aug. 14 cease-fire, the group reported. It said Israeli officials did not disclose the estimated rate of duds among the smaller munitions released from these rockets.

Hezbollah reportedly fired Chinese-made Type-81 122mm rockets, the first known use of that weapon in the world. Each of those rockets carries smaller munitions that can shoot out hundreds of 3.5mm steel spheres.

Previously, the human rights group reported on Israel's extensive firing of as many as 4 million submunitions into Lebanon. They left as many as 1 million hazardous pieces that are causing three to four casualties a day and disrupting the return to normalcy in Lebanon's southern farmlands.

Jihad Ghanem, a Palestinian factory manager residing in the Israeli village of Mghar, showed human rights investigators some of the 3.5mm steel spheres and shrapnel that injured his son Rami, 8, his brother Ziad, 35, and his sister Suha, 33, the group said. Rami's arms bore irregular scars and smaller round marks that Ghanem said were caused by steel spheres, the group said.

Israeli police told Human Rights Watch that one person was killed in Mghar and six were injured, while there were three injuries in Karmiel, two in Kiryat Motzkin and one in Nahariya.

Five countries produce nine types of 122mm rockets carrying submunitions: China, Egypt, Italy, Russia and Slovakia.

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