Cluster bombs continue to kill after ceasefire
Updated Fri. Aug. 25 2006 10:02 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
While the guns have gone silent over southern Lebanon amid a tense ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas, civilians continue to die from cluster bombs.
Israel dropped cluster bombs -- anti-personnel weapons that spray bomblets over a wide area - on at least 170 villages in their 34-day offensive, according to Tekimiti Gilbert, operations chief of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre in Lebanon.
The bomblets that failed to explode are now proving to be dangerous weapons against the civilians who never fled during the conflict, or who are starting to return home.
The UN group is attempting to map the 285 unexploded cluster bomb sites that have so far been identified in southern Lebanon, said Dalya Farran, a spokesperson for the group.
"And our teams are still doing surveys and adding new locations every day," Farran told The Associated Press. "We find about 30 new locations per day."
Meanwhile, The New York Times is reporting that the U.S. State Department is investigating whether Israel's use of the American-made bombs violates secret agreements made between the two nations about how the weapons can be used.
The U.S. had planned to send another shipment of M-26 artillery rockets, another weapon in the cluster family, but has now put the shipment on hold, the newspaper reports.
At least eight people have been killed and 25 wounded, including several children, by the devices since a UN-sponsored ceasefire took hold on Aug. 14, Gilbert told the Reuters news agency.
"It's a huge problem. There are obvious dangers with children, people, cars. People are tripping over these things," Gilbert said.
CTV's Denelle Balfour, reporting from Beirut, said some of the bomblets are easy to see, while others are brightly coloured and look like toys or batteries.
One wrong move, she says, and she could step on one.
"This is what the people of southern Lebanon are finding in their gardens, in their homes when they return."
The cluster bombs were dropped after Israel launched its offensive July 12 in response to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerillas.
The ordnance are not illegal, but they are not supposed to be used in civilian areas, and now Israel is facing a backlash over their use.
Israel denies using the bombs illegally, and accuses Hezbollah of firing rockets into Israel from civilian areas.
Cluster bombs consist of a canister that breaks open to release many smaller bombs. They are dropped from planes, but do not have precision guiding, so can wander off target. They are also fired by artillery.
A controversial weapon, the bomblets have a failure (dud) rate of about 14 per cent, says the New York-based Human Rights Watch. If they don't explode right away, the cluster bombs may sit like landmines, only to explode years later.
"They are designed to explode, maim and kill people," says Chris Clark, head of the UN Mine Action Service in southern Lebanon.
Large numbers of the cluster bombs have been found south of the Litani River, about 29 kilometres from the border with Israel, as well as in northern cities, such as Nabatiyeh and Hasbaya.
Clearance teams from the British-based Mine Advisory Group (MAG) have been working with the UN to clear, collect and destroy live munitions. But for every 100 or so they blow up daily even more have been discovered.
Gilbert thinks it will take at least a year to clear them all.
Earlier this year, Belgium became the first country to ban the use of cluster bombs. Norway also announced a moratorium on the weapon in June 2006.
With reports by CTV's Denelle Balfour in southern Lebanon and The Associated Press