cluster bomb 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The US State Department forwarded a preliminary report to Congress Monday critical of Israel for its use of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon during its war with Hizbullah last summer.
The report, though not final, contained indications of Israeli violations of the classified agreement between the two countries governing arms exported by the US, which reportedly prohibits the use of cluster bombs in populated areas.
"There were likely violations," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told wire services on Monday, saying the report to Congress discussed possible violations of a "use agreement" between the US and Israel over the munitions.
A US administration official speaking on condition of anonymity, however, told The Jerusalem Post that the thinking within the department was that there had been clear breaches.
Once the State Department has reported its findings to Congress, the administration can decide to take action against Israel, which could lead to suspension of cluster bomb shipments to the Jewish State, among other options.
In the 1980s, the Reagan administration imposed a six-month ban on exports of the weapon to Israel following a Congressional investigation finding Israeli misuse of cluster bombs during the first Lebanon war.
Some observers, however, have argued that Israel's close ties to the Bush administration and the wide backing the country enjoys in Congress would preclude such strong action now.
Israel has defended its use of the weaponry, saying that it fired the controversial bombs in self-defense.
Ahead of the report's release, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev told The Post that Israel had taken American concern on the issue "very seriously."
"We have an open dialogue with the US," he said. "We have provided them with information, and tried to be as forthcoming, detailed and transparent as is possible. Our understanding is that the use of these weapons was done within the framework of self-defense in dealing with rockets designed to kill Israeli citizens."
McCormack said the Israeli government had been "responsive and transparent" in providing information for the report, though he wouldn't go into details on the report's contents.
Cluster bombs often leave unexploded ordinances behind, which can pose a hazard to civilians. Several human rights groups and the United Nations criticized Israel this summer for leaving bomblets in areas used by Lebanese civilians.
Two Belgian soldiers were wounded while on demining operations in Southern Lebanon, according to news reports Monday. Neither was in critical condition.
In light of the State Department report, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the US to immediately cut off of all US cluster munitions sales to Israel.