HRW Documents Hezbollah’s Use of Cluster Munitions

by Kevin Jon Heller

Human Rights Watch continues to investigate war crimes committed by both Israel and Hezbollah. In July, the organization reported on Israel’s indiscrimate use of cluster munitions in Southern Lebanon. Now HRW has released a report detailing Hezbollah’s use of similar munitions against Israel — attacks that are, according to the organization, “at best indiscriminate, i.e., they violated the principle of distinction by using unguided and highly inaccurate cluster munition models against populated areas,” and at worst specifically intended to harm civilians:

Hezbollah fired cluster munitions into civilian areas in northern Israel during the recent conflict, Human Rights Watch reported today. This is the first time that Hezbollah’s use of these controversial weapons has been confirmed.

Hezbollah’s deployment of the Chinese-made Type-81 122mm rocket is also the first confirmed use of this particular model of cluster munition anywhere in the world. Human Rights Watch documented two Type-81 cluster strikes that took place on July 25 in the Galilee village of Mghar.


On July 25, 2006, between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m., according to 43-year-old Jihad Ghanem, a cluster munition landed between three homes belonging to his family in the western part of Mghar village (population 19,000). The attack injured three family members: his son Rami, 8, his brother Ziad, 35, and his sister Suha, 33. Rami’s arms bore irregular scars caused by pieces of shrapnel as well as smaller round marks that Jihad said were caused by steel spheres.

Jihad Ghanem, a factory manager, showed Human Rights Watch 3.5mm steel spheres and pieces of metal which he said landed at the scene, and were consistent with the top of Type-90 submunitions. He said he saw in his yard a canister with small weapons stacked on top of each other. This and the relatively light injuries suffered by his son suggest that the submunitions may not have deployed properly.

According to other villagers, the rocket that hit the Ghanem’s property was part of a volley of some 10 to 12 rockets that landed in or near Mghar that afternoon, one after the other. Human Rights Watch could not determine how many of the rockets in this volley contained submunitions, but witnesses said that at least one of the other rockets contained cluster submunitions. Amal Hinou, 42, who makes plate-glass products for construction, showed Human Rights Watch pieces of it that he said he collected in an open field in the Hariq area just outside of Mghar. These included several clearly identifiable pieces of submunitions and their casings.

The Type-90 submunitions are easy to identify. They resemble small cylindrical bells with a ribbon at one end. A plastic band full of 3.5mm steel spheres wraps horizontally around the middle of the cylinder. Inside is an armor-piercing “shaped charge.” The steel spheres carried by Hezbollah’s regular 122mm and 220mm rockets – that is, those that do not contain submunitions – are 6mm in diameter.

Israeli police officials told Human Rights Watch that they documented 113 cluster rockets that were fired at Israel during the conflict, causing one death and 12 injuries in all: in Mghar one death and six injuries, in Karmiel three injuries, in Kiryat Motzkin two injuries, and in Nahariya one injury. The police said they discovered the first of these rockets on July 15 in the Upper Galilee village of Safsufa. A total of 113 Type-81 cluster munition rockets would contain 4,407 individual submunitions.

Israeli police also showed Human Rights Watch physical evidence of a submunition from a Type-81 rocket that they said landed in the town of Karmiel and matched the one Human Rights Watch researchers saw in Mhgar.

4 Responses

  1. Kevin,

    I trust you’ve also seen Aryeh Neier’s article, ‘Smearing Human Rights Watch as Anti-Semitic,’ in the New York Review of Books, Vol. LIII, No. 17, Nov. 2, 2006. Thus in order to keep things in proper perspective, we should look to reports about Israel’s use of cluster bombs after July:

    ‘As for cluster bombs, they were not discussed in Human Rights Watch’s August 3 report but only in subsequent statements because it was later in the conflict that Israel began to use them extensively. There is no question that the attacks in which they were used were “indiscriminate” according to international law. They are, moreover, plainly more lethal than the ball bearings that, as reported by Human Rights Watch, Hezbollah used in its rockets; they can cause death and injury not only when they are first used but long after as well. If cluster bombs have a military purpose, it is for use on battlefields where they may kill large numbers of combatants spread over a wide area. They are utterly inappropriate, as HRW has repeatedly pointed out, when used as a weapon against a military force operating in or near an area populated by civilians.

    According to Jan Egeland, under-secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, Israel dropped well over 90 percent of its cluster bombs in the seventy-two hours between the time when the Security Council resolution on a cease-fire was adopted in New York and when the resolution went into effect on August 14. He reported that the UN had identified some 359 cluster-bomb strike locations in which more than 100,000 unexploded small bombs would continue to maim and kill civilians for a long time to come.[18] In this respect, cluster bombs are similar to land mines in their effect.’

    And from JURIST today:

    Israel admits using phosphorous bombs against Hezbollah in Lebanon conflict

    Caitlin Price at 3:14 PM ET

    An Israeli Cabinet official admitted for the first time Sunday that Israel employed phosphorous bombs [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] against Hezbollah guerillas during this summer’s conflict in Lebanon [JURIST news archive]. Israeli Cabinet Minister Jacob Edery [official profile] confirmed that the weapons were used during combat and not just for target marking, as had previously been asserted. The use of incendiary weapons against civilians has been banned by Protocol III to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons [text] since 1980, though Israel continues to assert that its use of the bombs comports with international law.

    Allegations that Israel had used chemical munitions arose in July, when Lebanese President Emile Lahoud [official website] first accused Israel of using phosphorus weapons [JURIST report] in the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah [US State Dept. backgrounder]. AP has more.

  2. I’m not sure why I was identified as Seamus (my middle name), as I re-registered some time ago under my full name: Patrick S. O’Donnell

  3. Patrick,

    Re: Israel and white phosphorus — see my most recent post!


  4. Given the fact that Hezbollah did not appear to be aiming their rockets at any legitimate military target, It seems rather moot to argue whether their use of cluster munitions was acceptable or not.

    If Hezbollah’s crime is the use of a indiscriminate weapon, I’m highly curious to hear what target they were aiming at that required greater precision, and was located directly in Israeli cities.

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