Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Israeli soldiers blow whistle on use of illegal weapons

Israeli soldiers blow whistle on use of illegal weapons
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Israeli soldiers blew the whistle on the Israeli Army's "insane and monstrous" attacks on Lebanon in an article posted on the Web site of an Israeli newspaper on Tuesday. Several anonymous sources within the army's artillery units posted in Lebanon during the recent 34-day war told the Haaretz daily that they had blanketed Southern Lebanon's towns with cluster bombs and knowingly launched bombs banned by international law. "What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs," the head of an Israeli Army rocket unit in Lebanon told Haaretz regarding the use of cluster bombs and phosphorous shells during the war. Quoting his battalion commander, the rocket unit head stated that the Israeli Army fired some 1,800 cluster bombs, containing over 1.2 million cluster bomblets. Other soldiers testified that the army used internationally banned phosphorous shells during the war. The lion's share of the illegal ordinance was fired in the final 10 days of the war, they said. The rocket unit commander further told Haaretz Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) platforms were used extensively, despite the fact they are known to be "highly inaccurate." The article described MLRS as "a track- or tire-carried mobile rocket launching platform, capable of firing a very high volume of mostly unguided munitions. The basic rocket fired by the platform is unguided and imprecise, with a range of about 32 kilometers. The rockets are designed to burst into sub-munitions at a planned altitude in order to blanket enemy army and personnel on the ground with smaller explosive rounds." "The use of such weaponry is controversial mainly due to its inaccuracy and ability to wreak great havoc against indeterminate targets over large areas of territory, with a margin of error of as much as 1,200 meters from the intended target to the area hit," it added. The United Nations has estimated that as much as 40 percent of the clusters fired on Lebanon remain on the ground as unexploded munitions. At least a dozen Lebanese civilians have been killed by unexploded bomblets since an August 14 cease-fire began. According to the commander, in order to compensate for the inaccuracy of the rockets and the inability to strike individual targets precisely, units would "flood" the battlefield with munitions, accounting for the littered and explosive landscape of post-war Lebanon. When his reserve duty came to a close, the commander sent a letter to Defense Minister Amir Peretz outlining the use of cluster munitions, a letter which he told Haaretz has remained unanswered. The Israeli daily said that "it has come to light that Israeli soldiers fired phosphorous rounds in order to cause fires in Lebanon," quoting an artillery commander as saying he saw trucks loaded with phosphorous rounds on their way to artillery crews in the north of Israel. The International Red Cross has determined that international law forbids the use of phosphorous and other types of flammable rounds against personnel, both civilian and military. The Israeli Army's Spokesman's Office told Haaretz that "international law does not include a sweeping prohibition of the use of cluster bombs. The convention on conventional weaponry does not declare a prohibition on [phosphorous weapons], rather, on principles regulating the use of such weapons." - The Daily Star

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