Israel army trains U.N. in bomb disposal for Lebanon

Date: 11-22-06

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli army said on Wednesday it is helping to train U.N. peacekeepers how to safely clear cluster bombs and mines left behind from Israel's war with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas this summer.

The delayed detonation of unexploded Israeli cluster bombs have killed more that 20 Lebanese and wounded 70 since the war ended in an August 14 truce, drawing international scrutiny and censure on the Jewish state's fighting tactics.

Lieutenant-Colonel Amit Tesler, commander of the Israeli Defence Forces' international training branch, said that in September his unit trained a Spanish contingent from the southern Lebanon peacekeeper force UNIFIL in clearing munitions.

An Italian contingent was due to arrive next in Israel for the week-long course, Tesler told reporters.

"We are offering this service so that those people will arrive in Lebanon with the knowledge necessary to help in their work," he said, adding that the requests for training came from the Spanish and Italian governments.

UNIFIL officials were not immediately available for comment.

Asked what special expertise Israel could offer in military bomb-disposal, Tesler said it came down to knowledge of the kinds of weapons used during the 34-day Lebanon campaign.

"No military can be exposed to the entire range of weaponry out there," he said. "We are familiar with what was used."

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of illegally using cluster bombs in populated areas during the war, in which 1,200 Lebanese and 157 Israelis were killed.

Israel says Hezbollah invited innocent casualties by operating within civilian areas, and that that tactics of Israeli forces fell within the bounds of international law.

But Israel's military chief, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, this week launched an investigation into the firing of cluster bombs following media reports that he had not authorized wide use of the controversial munitions in fighting.

Cluster bombs are released en masse from a projectile fired by cannons or dropped from warplanes. They disperse and are meant to explode when they hit the ground, but many do not.

Israeli television said on Sunday a military probe had shown artillery gunners had contravened Halutz's orders in firing cluster bombs in southern Lebanon during the war.

A report by London-based Landmine Action said hundreds of thousands of unexploded cluster bomblets still litter the Lebanese countryside. The United Nations has called for a freeze on the use of the weapons in or near populated areas.

Hezbollah, which rained 4,000 rockets on northern Israel during the war, has also been accused by human rights groups of using cluster munitions. It has denied the charge.


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