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U.S. State Dept. report to address possible arms violations by Israel

January 28, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The State Department has completed a preliminary report on whether Israel misused American-made cluster bombs in civilian areas of Lebanon.

State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said Saturday that the report would be forwarded to Congress on Monday but declined to disclose the findings, emphasizing that they were preliminary.

"We take our obligations under the Arms Control Act seriously," Cooper said. "Our forwarding to Congress of a preliminary assessment is an indication of that.

"The Israeli government is also taking quite seriously their responsibility in providing information. We are not making a final judgment."

The State Department is required to notify Congress of even preliminary findings of possible violations of the arms act.

The New York Times reported online Saturday evening that the report would say Israel might have violated agreements with the United States by its use of American-supplied cluster munitions during last year's conflict.

The paper described disagreement among midlevel officials at the Defense Department and the State Department, with some in both departments arguing that Israel violated U.S. prohibitions on using cluster munitions against population areas. Others in both departments argued that the weapons were used in self-defense to stop Hezbollah rocket attacks and that, at worst, only a technical violation might have occurred.

A congressional investigation found Israel improperly used U.S.-made cluster bombs during its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The Reagan administration then imposed a six-year ban on further sales of the weapons to Israel.

Such sanctions are largely symbolic, however, since Israel also makes its own cluster munitions.

The United Nations said unexploded cluster bombs -- anti-personnel weapons that spray bomblets over a wide area -- litter homes, gardens and highways in southern Lebanon.

Relief organizations and the U.N. mine office have reported finding evidence that Israel used three types of U.S.-made cluster bombs during the 34-day battle with Hezbollah militants, during which both sides fired rockets into populated areas.

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