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Rights Group Warns Cluster Bombs, Shells Threaten Lebanese Civilians

An international human rights group says U.N. demining experts in south Lebanon have found several locations where Israeli forces used cluster bombs or artillery shells during their month-long battle with Hezbollah guerrillas.

Many of the cluster munitions failed to detonate completely on impact, Human Rights Watch says, and the anti-personnel bombs' components are scattered across civilian areas.

The group says the bomb components are small in size but very dangerous, since they still could explode at a single touch - weeks, months or even years from now.

A report by Human Rights Watch says U.N. teams have found at least 10 sites where civilians could easily stumble across unexploded cluster munitions fired by Israeli cannon, and there are fears that these hazards are merely "the tip of the iceberg."

U.N. demining teams and Lebanese soldiers are working to locate sites where live explosives remain, so they can keep civilians away, and Human Rights Watch is asking Israel to pinpoint the areas where its troops fired cluster shells.

The group also is calling on Israel to provide technical and financial support for the bomb disposal teams. The report says a representative of Israel's military told Human Rights Watch that the country's soldiers use only munitions that are "within the confines of international humanitarian law."

Cluster shells or bombs are not banned weapons, but Human Rights Watch says the use of such devices in civilian areas violates an internationally recognized ban on "indiscriminate attacks," because the weapons cannot be used reliably against specific targets.

The rights group has called for a ban on any use of cluster munitions that have high failure rates, which increases the risk that their unexploded components will become long-lasting "antipersonnel landmines." The report says tests show about one in seven (14%) of the artillery-delivered cluster shells that Israel uses can be expected to fail, and that the failure rate could be higher under battlefield conditions.