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Israeli cluster bombs lying in wait in Lebanon

By Elizabeth Schulte | September 15, 2006 | Page 2

REFUGEES FROM Israel's assault on Southern Lebanon face more horrors as they return home to some 100,000 unexploded cluster bombs.

According to a United Nations (UN) report, Israel dropped almost all of these bombs--an estimated 90 percent--in the last 72 hours of the war, when it was clear a ceasefire would soon take hold.

The bombs, dropped from airplanes or fired from artillery, scatter hundreds of smaller explosives over a large area. When these bomblets don't explode, they lay in wait for civilians to uncover, long after the war is ended.

Since the ceasefire on August 14, 38 Lebanese people have been wounded and eight killed--including two children--by exploding ordnance, according to the UN.

"A lot of them are in civilian areas, on farmland and in people's homes," Dalya Farran, spokeswoman for the UN Mine Action Coordination Center, which has an office in the southern city of Tyre, told CNN. "We're finding a lot at the entrances to houses, on balconies and roofs. Sometimes windows are broken, and they get inside the houses."

According to a report by the New York Times, the State Department is conducting an investigation into Israel's use of American-made cluster bombs, and whether this violated secret agreements with the U.S. government.

Israel claims it was "forced" to bomb civilian areas because that's where Hezbollah guerrillas were based. According to Frank Masche, a technical field manager for the Mine Advisory Group, a group that is clearing the bombs, of the six types of cluster bombs found in Southern Lebanon, three were manufactured in the U.S.

Masche told McClatchy Newspapers that his staff found unexploded explosives in various locations, including kitchen cabinets, chair cushions and gardens. "There are no bunkers in the places we've been," said Masche. "What we see is civilian infrastructure."

One estimate says that 40 percent of bomblets don't explode, but UN spokesperson Alexander Ivanko told McClatchy Newspapers that Israel may have been using older cluster bombs with a higher failure rate.

It will take months, maybe years, to remove the unexploded ordnance, Ivanko said. "My understanding from the people I have spoken to in Southern Lebanon is that the scale of cluster munition contamination is much greater than was seen in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq," Simon Conway, director of Land Mine Action, told reporters. "We will be clearing unexploded cluster munitions from the rubble of the villages of Southern Lebanon for another decade," he said. "That is the grim reality."

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