Cluster Bomb Blast Kills Man, Wounds Another in S. Lebanon

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BEIRUT - A construction worker was killed and another wounded Tuesday when a cluster bomb from Israel's war against Hezbollah exploded in southern Lebanon, security officials said.

The bomb went off as Hassan Mohammed Shehadeh, 40, and his nephew, Ahmed Mohammed Shehadeh, 21, were working at a construction site in the village of Kfar Tibnit, near Nabatiyeh town, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Hassan died instantly while Ahmed was rushed to hospital, the officials said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the bomb to explode - whether one man stepped on it or whether it was activated by the movement of some building materials.

The United Nations and human rights groups have accused Israel of dropping as many as 4 million cluster bombs on Lebanon during the July-August war with the militant Hezbollah group. United Nations ordnance clearing experts have said that up to 1 million cluster bombs failed to explode and continue to threaten civilians.

At least 25 people have died in cluster bomb explosions in Lebanon since the war ended in a UN-brokered cease-fire on August 14.

Report accuses Hezbollah of using civilians as human shields Meanwhile, an Israeli think tank with strong ties to the military has compiled a thick dossier of evidence accusing Lebanese guerrillas of using human shields in their summer war with Israel - a study its authors say can be used to rebuff war crime allegations over Israel's attacksof residential areas.

The report was obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday, days before its scheduled release.

Israel Air Force aircrafts and artillery killed more than 850 Lebanese, most of them civilians, during the conflict with Hezbollah guerrillas. Lebanon, a UN human rights agency and international rights groups have accused Israel of war crimes, though no formal charges have been filed.

Hezbollah, which touched off the conflict by capturing two Israel soldiers in a cross-border raid, battered northern Israel with nearly 4,000 rockets during the monthlong war, killing 39 civilians and 120 soldiers.

Israel maintains its attacks against Hezbollah targets in populated areas did not violate international law. It says Hezbollah deliberately operated within civilian areas, raising the civilian death toll.

The 300-page report seeks to bolster these claims. The New York Times first reported on the dossier Tuesday. It includes documents, photos and video footage - billed as declassified, though much of it is similar to information that has appeared on TV newscasts and the Foreign Ministry Web site.

It also says civilian casualties were lower than reported, and that at least 450 of the dead were guerrillas.

The study was prepared by a team led by military intelligence expert Reuven Ehrlich, a retired lieutenant colonel who now heads the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The private think tank has close ties with the Israel Defense Forces and maintains an office at the Defense Ministry. It produced the report in conjunction with lawyers from the army and Foreign Ministry.

"I think it could offer a response to allegations of human rights organizations on why the Israel Defense Forces operated in civilian areas," Ehrlich said.

The report says Hezbollah operated from civilian areas to deter the IDF and gain a propaganda advantage. Guerrillas stashed weapons in hundreds of private homes and mosques, had fighters transporting missiles closely follow ambulances, and fired rockets near UN monitoring posts, the report says.

It also includes aerial photographs of what its authors say are Hezbollah bases, weapons and ammunition stores hidden within civilian population centers in south Beirut, southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley.

The use of human shields has implications beyond the Lebanon war, because other groups in the Mideast are doing the same, Ehrlich said.

"It is a phenomenon relevant to Israel's confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon and in Gaza, and is something the U.S. and others working against terror have to grapple with," he said.

His study, citing IDF intelligence, disputes Lebanese and media accounts of civilian casualties, stating that at least 450 and as many as 650 of the Lebanese killed were Hezbollah operatives.

So far, no legal action has been taken against Israel in connection with its wartime actions, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. But ministry lawyers have prepared to defend government officials or military officers, should they be indicted.

A Hezbollah official dismissed the Israeli report as "totally untrue," saying it was part of "a campaign to vilify Hezbollah and justify the unjustified Israeli massacres in Lebanon."

"These allegations are part of Israeli propaganda aimed at protecting Israel's generals and officials who face accusations of committing massacres against Lebanese civilians during the summer war," Hussein Rahhal, Hezbollah's media chief, said.

The private rights group Amnesty International and UN human rights experts have accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilian areas and indiscriminate use of cluster bombs, which scatter scores of tiny explosives over an area the size of a football field.

Many of the small bombs failed to explode, in effect littering Lebanon with thousands of small land mines that have killed more than two dozen people since the end of the war. Israel says use of the bombs are permitted under international law.

Three chapters in the report by Ehrlich's team could be used to build an Israeli case, if necessary, said Danny Grossman, Israel director of the American Jewish Congress, which was involved in the report's conception and preparation.