Peretz admits phosphorous bombs used in Lebanon

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli army dropped phosphorous bombs against Hizbollah targets in Lebanon during the war there this summer, an Israeli Cabinet minister said Sunday, confirming Lebanese allegations for the first time.

Phosphorus weapons can cause severe burns and are banned for use in civilian areas, but Israel insisted it used the weapons in accordance with international law.Cabinet Minister Yaakov Edri said Israel used the weapons during fighting against Hizbollah. Edri was speaking on behalf of Defence Minister Amir Peretz, according to his spokeswoman Orly Yehezkel.

“The Israeli army holds phosphorous munitions in different forms,” Edri said. “The Israeli army made use of phosphorous shells during the war against Hizbollah in attacks against military targets in open ground.” During the war, the Lebanese government accused Israel of dropping phosphorous bombs.

Until now, Israel had said it only used the weapons to mark targets or territory, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported. Edri did not specify where or against what types of targets the phosphorous bombs were used.

Edri said international law does not ban the use of such weapons. However, many international human rights groups, including the Red Cross, have pushed to ban phosphorous weapons.

White phosphorous is a translucent wax-like substance with a pungent smell that, once ignited, creates intense heat and smoke. The Geneva Conventions ban using white phosphorous against civilians or civilian areas. The Israeli military said its use of weapons “conforms with international law,” and it investigates claims of violations based on the information provided.

Overall more than 1,200 civilians were killed on both sides during the conflict, which started with Hizbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers in July.

Both Israel and Hizbollah have been accused by the United Nations and human rights groups of violating humanitarian law during the conflict.

Israel has been accused of firing as many as four million cluster bombs into Lebanon during the war, especially in the last hours before the ceasefire. UN de-mining experts say up to one million cluster bombs failed to explode immediately and continue to threaten civilians.

On Sunday, a cluster bomb exploded in a southern Lebanese village, killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding his younger brother, Lebanese security officials said. At least 21 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded by cluster bombs since the end of the war, according to the UN Mine Action Centre.

Peretz, meanwhile, said Israeli air force flights over Lebanon would continue, claiming that arms smuggling to Hizbollah has not stopped.

Peretz made this statement to Israel’s Cabinet after the commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon termed the overflights a clear violation of the UN resolution ending Israel’s monthlong summer war with Hizbollah fighters.

Peretz accused the Lebanese government of failing to honour its obligation under the resolution to keep weapons from reaching Hizbollah from its Syrian and Iranian backers.

“The accumulating intelligence in our hands points to a rising effort to transfer arms,” so “the legitimacy for overflights increases,” he said.

The UN ceasefire resolution, which went into effect on Augus 14, calls for both sides to respect the UN boundary drawn in 2000 after Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon.

Israel says it has no choice but to conduct flights across that line because of ongoing arms supplies to Hizbollah and the group’s continued armed presence in southern Lebanon, which, under the resolution, is to become a weapons-free zone.

A Lebanese government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment publicly, said Lebanon would continue to press for an end to the Israeli overflights.

Peretz’s statements, he said, “confirmed that Israel has been violating and would continue to violate Lebanese airspace.” Up to 15,000 Lebanese army troops and an equal number of UN troops have been assigned to keep the peace in southern Lebanon. Last week, Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, leader of the UN peacekeeping force, criticised Israel for sending its jets over the area.

Peretz, in response, said on Sunday that the UN force was “designed to operate against Hizbollah, not Israel.”

“As long as the resolution isn’t implemented, there is no other choice” but to keep flying over Lebanon, he said. 

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