Israel breached international law when it bombed southern Lebanon with cluster weapons during its campaign against Hezbollah in 2006, Human Rights Watch said Sunday.
The New York-based rights group demanded an independent inquiry to determine whether individual Israeli commanders "bear responsibility for war crimes."
A 131-page report, "Flooding South Lebanon: Israel's Use of Cluster Munitions in Lebanon in July and August 2006," claimed Israel violated international humanitarian law with hundreds of "indiscriminate and disproportionate cluster munitions attacks on Lebanon."
It released the report ahead of the opening Monday of a 120-nation conference in the New Zealand capital, Wellington, on a proposed convention to ban cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
The proposed treaty also seeks to set up a framework aimed at assisting survivors, clearing contaminated land of the unexploded munitions and destroying stockpiles of the weapons.
The convention was launched by Austria, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru and the Holy See at a conference in Oslo, Norway, last year. Some 41 of the 76 states in the world that stockpile cluster munitions are taking part in the negotiations, along with a majority of the weapon producers.
The United States, Russia, China and Israel - all important producers and stockpilers of cluster bombs - oppose a ban on the weapons and have blocked efforts to negotiate one at the United Nations.
At a news conference Sunday, Human Rights Watch said Israel had rained as many as 4.6 million submunitions, or cluster bomblets, across southern Lebanon - mostly in the final days of the war.
The report's lead author, Bonnie Docherty, said the United Nations must investigate whether Israel deliberately targeted civilians with the munitions.
"Ninety per cent of the [bombing] strikes occurred in the last three days [of the war when] Israel knew a cease-fire was imminent," she told reporters.
"Many, many of those strikes occurred on towns and villages across South Lebanon. Munitions left behind by those attacks continue to kill civilians today," she said.
Steve Goose, director of the Arms division at Human Rights Watch, said unexploded cluster "bomblets ... have killed and maimed almost 200 people since the war ended."
"The Lebanon story is just the latest example of something we've have seen over and over again: whenever cluster munitions are used, large numbers of civilians get killed and injured," Goose said.
New Zealand Disarmament Minister Phil Goff said the meeting would be "a pivotal step" toward a meaningful international treaty on cluster munitions.
An Israeli report on the 2006 war in Lebanon released last month said Israel did not violate international law by dropping cluster bombs. But it raised questions about the army's use of the weapons, noting a lack of "operational discipline, oversight and control." (AP)
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