BEIRUT - Lebanese who had fled air strikes during the month-long conflict with Israel, are facing a new danger as they head home: unexploded bombs and shells left behind.
“If any civilian touches them or tries to move them, they will explode,” Allen Kelly, liaison for United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in Beirut, told IRIN.
Israel’s military has stated that during its attacks on Hezbollah militias, following the capture of two Israeli soldiers, its air force hit 7,000 targets in Lebanon, and its navy carried out more than 2,500 bombardments along the Lebanese coast.
Normally, a small percentage of any munitions do not explode, so explosives are scattered throughout these areas.
Cluster bombs have a particularly high failure rate. According to eyewitnesses and survivors of attacks interviewed by an international lobby group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Israel used cluster bombs in areas populated with civilians in southern Lebanon.
Such munitions spread bomblets over a wide range and “have an unacceptably high failure rate (dud rate) of 14 percent, leaving behind a serious unexploded ordnance problem that will further endanger civilians”, HRW said in a report.
HRW’s report refers to a retired Israeli military commander who said that the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) operations manual warns soldiers that the use of such cluster munitions creates dangerous minefields due the high dud rate.
The Israeli army has started to withdraw from south Lebanon in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which was unanimously adopted on Friday.
This is one of the stated reasons the Israeli military has warned Lebanese not to travel south of the Litani River, some 30km north of the Israeli border. “IDF forces are still operating on a defensive basis as Hezbollah terrorists are still in the area. There is also unexploded ordnance in the area,” said the IDF on Monday.
Cluster bombs used by Israel have left behind a large number of ‘dud’ shells in Nabatiyeh, Kelly said. Lebanese army engineers are trying to detonate them, “but the problem is the absence of manpower”.
UNMAS reported a number of injuries and incidents from unexploded ordnance as thousands of Lebanese moved south on Monday, including the death of a child in Tyre and 15 civilian injuries in Kfar Roumane and Nabatiyeh.
Two civilians were also killed and five others wounded, when Israeli cluster bombs exploded in several villages, according to the Lebanese police.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other organisations are undertaking an awareness campaign about unexploded ordnance with the help of mass media, the Lebanese army and police.
The campaign includes the distribution of posters and pamphlets at checkpoints, said Allan Poston, UNDP chief technical advisor for mine action.
Anyone who sees an unfamiliar object or bomb should directly report it to the nearest security point, Poston advised. “If you see anything strange do not touch it, do not move it, report it immediately,” the posters say.
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