Cluster bombs: five types used in Lebanon
Cluster bombs and shells were used by the Israeli Army across the entire southern sector of west Beirut - including the heavily populated Borj el Barajneh refugee camp.Skip to next paragraph
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Munitions experts here say that, based on the large quantities of other types of Israeli bombs and shells being discovered, US-supplied cluster bombs apparently did not play a leading role in the Israeli assault.
But these munitions experts with the multinational peacekeeping force, which has been clearing the Lebanese capital of unexploded bombs, rockets, shells, and mines, confirm that five types of cluster bombs have been found in west Beirut.
The French, Italian, and American munitions specialists have found more than 1,800 cluster ''bomblets'' still unexploded, mostly in the area between the Corniche Mazra and Beirut International Airport. This area, which bore the brunt of Israeli shelling and bombing day after day, had the heaviest concentration of Palestinians - both fighters and civilians. It also included the heaviest concentration of Palestinian military positions.
The United States suspended all shipments of cluster-type weapons to Israel last July following reports of their possible misuse by the Israelis in Lebanon. American Embassy personnel in Beirut prepared a report confirming that cluster bombs had been used by the Israelis. But the report was prepared at a time when embassy staff members were restricted from entering west Beirut because of ongoing fighting. There has yet been no official follow-up investigation here.
The Reagan administration had expressed concern that Israeli use of cluster bombs and shells might have violated US arms export law and US-Israeli defense agreements, including that the weapons be used for defense only and only against military targets of organized Arab armies.
An Israeli spokesman in Baabda said cluster bombs and shells were used in Lebanon primarily against Syrian troop concentrations in the Bekaa Valley. He said it ''could be that some such bombs were dropped on the city (Beirut).'' He added that ''a few'' cluster bombs might have been dropped in Beirut by jet fighter-bombers returning to Israel after bombing missions in the Bekaa.
But the munitions experts say that most of the cluster weapons being found were fired by artillery rather than dropped from planes.
The cluster bomb is a US-designed weapon intended to deliver many small explosions over a wide radius, rather than one big one over a smaller radius. Cluster bombs or shells are simply many little bombs or ''bomblets'' carried and then dispersed out of one container - either an artillery-fired shell containing 88 bomblets or a canister with 360 bomblets dropped by a jet fighter-bomber. They have been designed in different sizes, models, and with different triggering mechanisms. Some explode on impact, some are time-delayed, and some explode only when touched.
The munitions experts here have found and identified five types of cluster bomblets:
1. A black metal ball, about the size of a baseball, filled with an explosive charge. It is believed to be the same type of cluster bomb used by Israel in its 1978 operation in southern Lebanon.
2. A shiny metal cylinder about an inch and a half in diameter and with a metal stem about six inches long. It is the largest and most powerful of the bomblets and as such is designed for use against lightly armored vehicles and against bunkers.
3. A shiny cylinder, a little larger than a flashlight battery, with a thin cloth strip several inches long attached to the top. The cloth strip is said to operate as a propeller in dispersing the bomblets. It is designed to cause a single blast in a concentration of troops.
4. A cylinder that looks identical to version No. 3 except it is colored black. It is designed to deliver both blast and shrapnel in a concentration of troops.
5. A black metal triangle, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, with metal wings that pop out after the bomblet is freed from the shell casing. It is designed upon hitting the ground to trigger a small explosion that releases a black metal ball - smaller than a golf ball - a little more than a yard off the ground where it explodes, maximizing the impact of the explosion in a concentration of troops. Experts say that if one of the wings malfunctions and the bomblet does not fall on the point of the triangle, it does not explode until it is triggered.
It was this type of bomblet that killed a US marine in Beirut in early October.
''If the cluster bombs were used, they were used only against military positions,'' an Israeli spokesman said. He added they were not used against single artillery or anti-aircraft gun emplacements in Beirut.