Israel says cluster bombs properly used in Lebanon

JERUSALEM, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Israel did not break international law with its use of cluster bombs in last year's war in Lebanon, an Israeli army investigation released on Monday said in a finding that ran counter to widespread reports of violations.

A United Nations commission last year charged that Israel did not limit assaults to military targets and made excessive use of cluster bombs.

But the Israeli army said military prosecutors would not take any legal action against field commanders after determining that "the use of cluster munitions during the war was in accordance with international humanitarian law".

The Lebanon war started after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in a cross-border raid in July 2006. The 34-day conflict cost the lives of nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Israel used aircraft, warships and artillery to pound Lebanon. Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets at northern Israel.

The United Nations estimated that Israel dropped a few million cluster bombs on Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands of the bomblets failed to explode and have continued to maim and kill after the war's end.

The Israeli investigation found that cluster bombs were fired exclusively at military targets.

It found that cluster bombs were used only when "potential damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure was not disproportionate to the military advantage gained", an army statement said.

The army said a majority of cluster bombs were fired at "open and uninhabited areas". They were dropped on "built-up" areas only when the areas were used by Hezbollah for rocket firing or to rescue Israeli troops, the army said. (Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Giles Elgood)