Washington to investigate Israel's use of cluster bombs in conflict

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The Independent Online

The US government is investigating whether Israel has broken secret agreements with Washington with its use of cluster bombs in the Lebanon conflict.

Officials confirmed yesterday that the State Department had launched the inquiry into a possible violation by Israel of an undertaking to use the munitions against only organised armies and defined military targets. The Pentagon has also postponed a shipment of M-26 artillery shells, according to The New York Times.

The move came as the United Nations said it was continuing to find areas riddled with cluster bombs (small munitions that can be lethal for civilians).

"There are about 285 locations across southern Lebanon, and our teams are finding 30 new ones every day," a UN spokeswoman said. "A lot of them are in civilian areas."

Since the 14 August ceasefire between Israel and Hizbollah, eight Lebanese - including two children - have been killed by cluster bombs, and 38 injured.

Israel, however, insists it has done nothing wrong. All the weapons used in the war were legal under international law, "and their use conforms with international standards," an army spokesman said. Israeli commanders have frequently accused Hizbollah of deliberately operating out of civilian villages.

It would be a surprise if the investigation led to further action by Washington. More likely, officials told the Times, the publicly announced investigation was intended to placate Arab criticism of unswerving US support for Israel.

* A US businessman has been charged with offering broadcasts of Hizbollah's al-Manar satellite television station to customers in the New York-area. Javed Iqbal, originally from Pakistan, is accused by prosecutors of doing business with a terrorist entity.

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