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Israel admits using phosphorous bombs in war on Hezbollah

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli army dropped phosphorous bombs on Hezbollah guerrilla targets during their war in Lebanon this summer, an Israeli Cabinet minister said yesterday, confirming Lebanese allegations for the first time.

Until now, Israel had said it only used the weapons -- which can cause severe chemical burns -- to mark targets or territory, according to Israeli media reports.

But Cabinet Minister Yaakov Edri said Israel used the weapons before an Aug. 14 cease-fire went into effect, ending its 34-day war against Hezbollah.

"The Israeli army holds phosphorous munitions in different forms," Edri said. "The Israeli army made use of phosphorous shells during the war against Hezbollah in attacks against military targets in open ground."

The Lebanese government accused Israel of dropping phosphorous bombs during the war. Edri did not specify where or against what types of targets the bombs were used.

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 United States acknowledged last year that U S troops used white phosphorous as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah in November 2004, but said it had never been used against civilians.

Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. The Israeli military said in July its use of weapons conforms to 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 Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in July.

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

Yesterday a cluster bomb left over from the conflict exploded in a southern Lebanese village, killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding his younger brother, security officials said. At least 21 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded by cluster bombs since the end of the war, the U N Mine Action Center said.

Also yesterday, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said air force flights over Lebanon would continue because arms smuggling to Hezbollah guerrillas has not stopped more than two months after the cease-fire.

Peretz, in remarks at Israel's weekly Cabinet meeting, accused the Lebanese government of failing to carry out its cease-fire obligations to keep weapons from being delivered to the Islamic militant group from Syrian and Iranian backers.

"Intelligence in our hands points to a rising effort to transfer arms," so "the legitimacy for overflights increases," Peretz said.

Peretz spoke after the U N peacekeeping force in Lebanon termed the overflights a clear violation of the cease-fire resolution, which calls for both sides to respect the U N boundary drawn in 2000 after Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon.

Major General Alain Pelligrini of France, who leads the U N peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, said last week that the overflights are a major concern.

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