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LEBANON: UN condemns Israel's "immoral" use of cluster bombs

31 Aug 2006 17:05:52 GMT

Source: IRIN

TAYBE/BEIRUT, 31 August (IRIN) - The United Nations Secretary General has added his voice to growing concern over the devastating impact on civilians of cluster bombs used by Israel in its recent military offensive in Lebanon.

Speaking on a visit to Jordan on Thursday, UN chief Kofi Annan said, "Those kinds of weapons shouldn't be used in civilian and populated areas."

On Wednesday, Jan Egeland, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, condemned Israel's use of cluster bombs.

"What's shocking and I would say, to me, completely immoral, is that 90 percent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict when we knew there would be a resolution, when we really knew there would be an end of this," said Egeland.

The UN Humanitarian Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) says that up to 100,000 unexploded cluster bomblets are scattered in southern Lebanon.

"Even if there is only one mine in the field, it is the kind of weapon that long after the conflict lies there silently waiting to maim and kill," said Annan.

The Israeli authorities are yet to publicly comment on the UN's criticism. However, an Israeli military spokesman said on 17 August that Israel used these munitions "within the confines of international humanitarian law".

The presence of unexploded ordnance (UXOs) is proving to be a major impediment to the safe return of thousands of displaced people.

"The people returning home, however, are facing massive problems," said Egeland. "Two hundred and fifty thousand of them, in our view, are not able to move into their homes at all because they are destroyed or because of unexploded ordnance."

Cluster bombs, or submunitions, are small metallic canisters, about the size of a torch battery. Typically, tens to hundreds of these bomblets are ejected from artillery shells in mid-flight, showering a wide area with explosions that kill anyone within 10 metres of where they land. Up to a quarter, however, fail to explode.

In Lebanon, many of these bomblets landed on main roads, thus greatly affecting civilian access to public services such as hospitals.

"Many have also fallen into the fields and plantations, thus impeding access to the fields, which once constituted a main source of livelihood for many people in the south," said Astrid Van Genderen Stort, spokesperson for the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

"Even those villages that have not suffered massive damages to houses and infrastructure have been affected, because people cannot go into the fields and tend to their crops," she added.

Given their small size, cluster bombs are often mistaken by children as some kind of toy. With a nationwide awareness campaign by UN agencies, Lebanese NGOs, the Lebanese government and Hezbollah, adults and children are learning how to identify UXOs.

"I know what a cluster bomb looks like," said Ali, a 12-year-old resident of Taybe, 70 km southeast of Beirut and just 5 km northwest of the border with Israel. "But my parents won't let me go out into the fields to play because they're worried I'll step on a bomb by mistake, and get hurt."

UNHCR is currently working in coordination with UNMACC, the UN mine clearance agency, to help speed up the UXO clearance process to enable people to return home as soon and as safely as possible.

UNMACC chief of operations in Tyre, Tekimiti Gilbert, estimates that it will take another six months to get the situation under control. "[But] it will take us another 18 months, at best, to eliminate the problem. But that all depends on the availability of funding," said Gilbert.

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 brought hostilities between Israel and the armed wing of Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party, to an end on 14 August. Since then, 13 people in Lebanon have been killed by cluster bomb explosions and another 46 injured, according to UNOCHA.


 A decade to clear cluster bombs in Lebanon

Fri Sep 1, 2006 10:45am ET

By Stephanie Nebehay

(Retrieved from Reuters on September 1, 2006)

GENEVA (Reuters) - Clearing unexploded cluster bombs used by Israel in Lebanon during the month-long war, many of them U.S.-manufactured, could take 10 years, a British-based demining group said on Friday.

"We will be clearing unexploded cluster munitions from the rubble of the villages of southern Lebanon for another decade," said Simon Conway, director of Land mine Action. "That is the grim reality," he told reporters in Geneva.

Before the recent war between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas in the south, demining teams were still clearing unexploded cluster munitions from Israel's 1978 and 1982 incursions into Lebanon, according to the advocacy group which is campaigning for an international ban on their use.

Such weapons continue to kill and maim civilians, especially children, for years after a conflict, it said.

The United Nations estimates that 100,000 cluster bomblets that failed to explode lie in Lebanon, with most landing during the final 72 hours of the war, which ended in an August 14 ceasefire.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland has called Israel "completely immoral" for using them in residential areas.


"My understanding from the people I have spoken to in southern Lebanon is that the scale of cluster munition contamination is much greater than was seen in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq," said Conway, a former deminer in post-conflict zones including Kosovo, Afghanistan and Cambodia.

Israel denies using the weapons illegally and accuses Hizbollah of firing rockets into Israel from civilian areas.

Three types of artillery-delivered cluster bombs were used by Israel in Lebanon -- two U.S.-made (M42 and M77) and one Israeli (M85), each with roughly the same failure rate of 40 percent, he said.

So far, the United Nations has found 400 strike sites where cluster bombs -- "a lot of them U.S.-manufactured" -- were used, said David Shearer, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon.

U.N. demining teams, who have destroyed 2,900 sub-munitions so far, predict it would take 12 to 15 months to clean up the cluster bombs.

"Currently one person per day is being killed and three people per day are being injured by ordnance of all types," Shearer told reporters.

Some 100 deminers -- from Sweden, Britain and New Zealand -- will be deployed by the end of the week, according to the U.N. official, who expected the U.N. force in south Lebanon (UNIFIL) to be more involved as troop levels rise.