South Lebanon littered with war’s lethal leftovers
By Michael Winfrey
TEBNIN, Lebanon (Reuters) – More than 100 deadly black
cylinders, not much bigger than large household batteries,
litter the main road of this shattered village.
They are unexploded cluster bombs fired by Israel in the
last days of its war with Hizbollah guerrillas.
At least a dozen of them lie near the entrance of Tebnin’s
only hospital, a shrapnel-sprayed building hit during an
Israeli bombardment that wounded 15 people, according to its
“Dangerous? This is a village filled with hundreds of
unexploded bombs,” said Frank Masche, technical field manager
of the Mines Advisory Group, a U.N.-backed unit cleaning up the
lethal leftovers of the five-week war.
“These things are tiny, really hard to see, and very
sensitive. You just accidentally kick one and it will go off.”
Cars of refugees returning to their homes honk and swerve
through the street, brakes screeching as they lurch within
inches of tape marking the bombs.
Unexploded ordinance, also known as UXO, have killed at
least four people and injured at least eight since a
U.N.-backed truce halted fighting between Israel and Hizbollah
Jawad Najam, a doctor at a private hospital in nearby Tyre,
said his staff had treated 25 people for cluster bomb injuries
in 24 hours. He described the bombs as looking “like toys.”
Designed to puncture tank armor and spray molten shrapnel
inside to kill the crew, cluster bombs are released above their
targets by jets or artillery, said Tekimiti Gilbert, operations
chief for the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center in Lebanon.
As they fall, a ribbon on the firing pin twists in the air
to arm it but if they do not strike their target just right,
they do not detonate.
Gilbert said that happened around 10 percent of the time.
“So they’re just lying there, waiting for someone to come
and trip the mechanism,” he said, standing over a bomb in the
center of the road. “When one goes off, anything within 15
metres (47 feet) is going to be dead.”
RAIN OF DESTRUCTION
The U.N. estimates Israel fired 2,600 artillery rounds,
missiles and bombs into Lebanon each day of the five-week war,
which killed more than 1,100 people in Lebanon and 157
If 10 percent remains unexploded, that means there could be
around 8-9,000 deadly ordnance waiting to go off, Gilbert said.
“I just got back this morning. There were three little
bombs in here, so I threw them out,” said Hussein Ali Hammud, a
bookshop owner, after he and his family returned to their
battered house in Tebnin. “Now they tell me that was a
U.S. rights group Human Rights Watch has urged the United
States not to send cluster munitions to Israel, saying their
use in civilian-populated areas violates international law.
The Jewish state, which blames Hizbollah for starting the
war by kidnapping two of its soldiers in a bloody July 12 raid,
says it uses the weapons legally.
In Bint Jbeil, scene of some of the heaviest fighting, many
unexploded 500 lb bombs — each over a meter long — and other
shells lie in the shattered concrete, metal and scalded earth
that was once the main market street.
Hizbollah workers guide heavy machinery among the cluster
bombs, here resembling small grey potatoes, as they move slabs
of concrete to reach bodies under the rubble.
The larger munitions can be handled and even driven to a
remote location for detonation but the hidden ones, especially
the cluster bombs, often go unseen until it is too late.
“Using cluster bombs in civilian areas goes against the
rules of warfare,” said Gilbert.
“They need to be banned. They are so indiscriminate and
have such a high failure rate, they cause huge problems when
the fighting stops.”