Villages 'carpeted' with cluster bombs

Sunday Telegraph

(20 August 2006) - BRITISH mine clearance experts have accused Israel of "carpeting" Lebanese border villages with deadly cluster bombs, claiming that more appeared to have been used than in the American-led invasion of Iraq. The Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a Manchester-based charity working in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh, said "extreme" quantities of cluster bombs had been dropped on scores of surrounding villages during the final days of the conflict last week.

At least four people, including two teenage boys, have died after stepping on them, and 16 others have been injured, according to medics at the city's hospital.

There have been growing calls in recent years to outlaw the use of cluster bombs, which scatter hundreds of small "bomblets" no bigger than an AA battery over a target area. Although designed to explode on impact, they often fail to do so, remaining a deadly threat to civilians who might tread on them.

Among the victims was Ali Turkiye, 13, who was harvesting grapes in the village of Zawte when he accidentally dislodged a bomblet that had been caught in a vine.

"It tore the top of his skull off," said Ali Haaj Ali, the director-general of the Najde Hospital in Nabatieh. "We tried to save him but we could not."

Yusuf Khalil, died while helping the Lebanese army to clear the munitions. "He was close to one of the bomblets and a frog jumped from next to the device and set it off, leaving him with fatal head injuries," said Mr Ali.

In a double tragedy, an 11-year-old boy, Hadi Hatab, was killed by a cluster bomb as he wandered out of the family home; his father Moussa, 32, was killed by another bomb after he sprinted over to help him.

"The Israelis dropped these in the last few hours of the war when the fighting was nearly over," said Hussein Khatib, a family friend. "They were dropped at night and landed in the rooftops, on the road, everywhere. Israel and America both know that these weapons should be banned, yet they still keep using them."

Israel says that all its munitions used in conflict comply with international law, although the American-based campaign group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), argues that their use in civilian areas breaks a legal ban on indiscriminate attacks. "Cluster munitions are unacceptably inaccurate and unreliable weapons when used around civilians," said Kenneth Roth, HRW's executive director. "They should never be used in populated areas."

Chris Clark, the head of the United Nations weapons clearance team in southern Lebanon, said the cluster bombs found were contained in artillery shells and had not been dropped by aircraft. Clearing the unexploded bombs, he said, could take 12 months.

Mosques have begun broadcasting warnings about the munitions, and Lebanese army soldiers have handed out leaflets to motorists at checkpoints.

Sean Sutton, of MAG, said Israel appeared to have used even more cluster bombs than America during the invasion of Iraq - tactics widely criticised at the time by human rights groups.

"The contamination is incredibly widespread - I have never seen anything like it," he told The Sunday Telegraph. "In Iraq they were used mainly in rural areas and in some villages, but nothing like as much as they have been here.

A general view of Al-Nabatiyeh village in Lebanon after Israeli airstrikes, August 5, 2006. (MaanImages/Raoul Kramer)

"We have visited about 30 or 40 villages in the Nabatieh region, and I would say that about 50 per cent of them have been carpeted by cluster bombs, often with one lying every few metres. We have found them on peoples' doorsteps, in school playgrounds, and even in the front room of an old lady's house."

Both American-made cluster bombs and Israeli-manufactured copies had been found, he said. "They are essentially anti-personnel devices."


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