Hizbollah fired cluster rockets on civilians in Israel, says rights group

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Hizbollah launched cluster bombs into civilian areas of northern Israel during the five-week Lebanon war, an international human rights agency has said.

Human Rights Watch said the Lebanese guerrilla group had launched 122mm Chinese-made Type 81 rockets on Jewish and Arab communities. These contain dozens of bomblets, known as "sub-munitions".

Israel had earned wide condemnation for its use of cluster weapons during the conflict, which left as many as a million hazardous "duds", ones that failed to explode on impact and which HRW says are still wounding three civilians a day and disrupting economic recovery. Twenty people have died since the August ceasefire.

The Israeli authorities had prevented publication of details of Hizbollah cluster strikes, citing security concerns, HRW said. It added that it had itself documented the use of the weapon on the Arab-Israeli village of Mghar in Galilee where three members of a family were wounded.

Israeli police told HRW113 cluster rockets were fired on Israel, causing one death, also in Mghar, and 12 injuries. That total could contain 4,407 "sub-munitions" but police declined to estimate the number of possible duds still lying around.

In Beirut, Nabih Berri, the influential Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, has declared for the first time that now "might be a very appropriate time for peace talks" with Israel. Though the leader of Amal, Hizbollah's rival for the Shia constituency in Lebanon, Mr Berri has become closely allied with the Hizbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose offer of peace talks was apparently rebuffed by his Lebanese counterpart, Fouad Siniora, said: "Every time an Arab leader talks about peace, we must listen to him. In this case, we're talking about an interesting remark."

* Khaled Mashaal, the exiled Hamas political leader, vetoed an Egypt-brokered prisoner swap involving Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, held in Gaza, and Palestinian prisoners in Israel, an Israeli minister said. But the Palestinian Interior Minister, Said Siyam, said Israel torpedoed the deal.