updated 1/27/2007 8:41:06 PM ET 2007-01-28T01:41:06

The Bush administration will notify Congress on Monday that Israel may have violated agreements with Washington when it fired U.S.-supplied cluster munitions into Lebanon in its war with Hezbollah last summer, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.

Citing State Department officials who spoke on Saturday, the Times said the preliminary findings had spawned a sharp debate — which one official characterized as “head-butting” — within the administration over whether Washington should penalize its ally for using cluster munitions in towns and villages where Hezbollah guerrillas placed rocket launchers.

The Times reported some midlevel Pentagon and State Department officials contended Israel violated U.S. prohibitions on using cluster munitions against populated areas.

Other officials in the two departments argue Israel used the arms in self-defense to stop Hezbollah’s rocket attacks, which would amount to a technical violation at most.

Munitions may remain unexploded
Cluster bombs are small explosive devices that are released from a projectile and are dispersed and supposed to explode on hitting the ground. But many remain unexploded. More than 20 people have been killed and 70 wounded by cluster bombs since the end of the war in August. Israel has said it only deploys them in accordance with international law.

Several U.S. officials said they expected little further action on the matter, the Times said. One option being considered was barring additional sales of cluster munitions for a set period, one official told the paper.

The State Department began investigating the matter in August. Spokesman Sean McCormick said Congress would be informed on Monday of preliminary findings on possible violations of the Arms Export Control Act, which governs arms sales, but a final determination was still being debated.

“It is important to remember the kind of war Hezbollah waged,” the Times quoted McCormick as saying. “They used innocent civilians as a way to shield their fighters.”

Israeli government cites ‘self-defense’
The statute gives President George W. Bush discretion about imposing sanctions whether or not Israel is found to be in violation, the Times said, unless Congress take action.

The Times quoted David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, as saying Israel “provided a detailed response to the administration’s request for information” on its use of cluster munitions “to halt Hezbollah’s unprovoked rocket attacks against our civilian population centers.”

“Israel suffered heavy casualties in these attacks and acted as any government would in exercise of its right to self-defense,” Siegel added.

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