UN envoy asks Israel for records of cluster bomb strikes

Marwa, an eleven year old from Aita Shaab, is treated for injuries stemming from a cluster bomblet that exploded while she and her cousins were playing with it. (Dina Debbas/IRIN)

JERUSALEM, 22 April 2007 (IRIN) - A UN envoy has asked Israel to hand over detailed electronic records of its cluster bomb strikes on southern Lebanon last summer to help munitions-clearing teams with their task.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said she had asked Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni for the files which are automatically produced when munitions are fired.

“There is a computer sheet generated when targets are attacked. If the mine clearers can get that, they can identify where the cluster munitions are,” she said, adding that Livni had told her she would look into the matter.

By last month, 30 people had been killed and 191 injured by mines or unexploded ordnance (UXO) in southern Lebanon since the ceasefire last August. The UN’s Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC) in south Lebanon estimates it has cleared about 10 percent of the estimated one million unexploded cluster munitions lying on the ground.

The Israelis have given mine clearers information about where Israeli landmines are in south Lebanon - but not on where cluster bombs were fired, Coomaraswamy said.

“Israel is dealing with this efficiently via direct communication between the Israeli military and UNIFIL [UN Interim Force in Lebanon]. Israel will continue to cooperate with the UN on this and other issues,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Coomaraswamy said the matter would be followed up by UN agencies on the ground.

Israel was criticised for firing 90 percent of all the cluster bombs it used in Lebanon in the final three days of the conflict, when both Israel and Hezbollah had agreed to a ceasefire. Israel says its use of the munitions was in line with international law.

So far, 864 cluster bomb strike locations have been identified in southern Lebanon. The unexploded ordnance is estimated to contaminate an area of 34 million square metres.

In addition, 15,300 other UXO items and 400,000 mines lie in the area. MACC aims to clear all known cluster bomb munitions by this December.

Coomaraswamy added that children she had visited in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil had suffered similar levels of psychological damage to their counterparts in the Palestinian territories and Israel.

“They wanted to stop people emigrating from the region. They said everyone was leaving them by themselves. I asked one what his plans for the future were and he said: ‘I plan to survive.’ So there is hopelessness there too,” she said.

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