US investigating Israeli use of cluster bombs
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25: The State Department is investigating whether Israel's use of US-manufactured rockets armed with cluster bombs in Lebanon violated agreements with the United States restricting use of such weapons, The New York Times reported yesterday.
Unidentified current and former US officials told the newspaper they doubted the investigation would lead to sanctions against Israel, but that the probe might be intended to help the Bush administration blunt criticism from Arab governments over its support of Israeli military operations.
In a report on its Web site, the Times said the State Department's Office of Defense Trade Controls opened the probe this week after reports that three types of American cluster bombs were discovered in southern Lebanon and were responsible for civilian deaths.
Israel has defended its right to use cluster bombs and says it only deploys them in accordance with international law. It has not specified whether it used them in the Lebanon war.
State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told the paper, ''We have heard the allegations that these munitions were used, and we are seeking more information.'' A State Department spokeswoman contacted by Reuters had no immediate comment.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy told the Times, ''We have not been informed of any such inquiry, and when we are we would be happy to respond.'' The Times said the United States crafted agreements with Israel governing its use of American cluster bombs in the 1970s. The deals required that munitions only be used against organized Arab armies and clearly defined military targets, the paper said.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan imposed a six-year ban on further sales of cluster weapons to Israel after a congressional investigation found Israel had used the weapons against civilian areas of Lebanon, which it invaded in 1982, according to the report.
Yesterday, a UN demining official told Reuters that Israel dropped cluster bombs on at least 170 villages in southern Lebanon during its 34-day war with Hizbollah guerrillas. The official accused Israel of deliberately hitting built-up areas with the bombs, in violation of international law, which states those munitions must not be used in areas where there are civilians.
Israel denies using the weapons illegally and accuses Hizbollah of firing rockets into Israel from civilian areas.