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The Daily Star/Lebanon

Campaign to Clear Cluster Bombs Is Still A Work in Progress

Ayman Oghanna

Beirut - A project to clear Israeli cluster bomb and other munitions left behind by the July 2006 war has begun in the town of Siddiqin, in the south-western district of Tyre, a statement issued by the European Commission says. The project - funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department, implemented by the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, and managed, monitored and supervised by the UN Mine Action Coordination Center (UNMACC) - is one of many throughout Lebanon, endeavouring to clear the various hazardous areas contaminated by unexploded munitions from Israeli-launched cluster bombs.0212 04

Cluster bombs are airdropped or artillery-fired shells containing hundreds of bomblets, each of which is capable of covering a wide area of with lethal metal shards and armor-piercing shrapnel.

While these bomblets are no bigger than packet of cigarettes, they are far more deadly. Up to 25 percent of each bomb's payload does not explode upon impact - effectively acting as a land mine.

UNMACC estimates that, 18 months after the July 2006 war with Israel, there remain over 1 million unexploded bomblets in Lebanon which contaminate approximately 38 million square meters of Lebanese land.

The vast majority of the 1 million mostly US-manufactured munitions littering the South were dropped in the final days of the summer 2006 war. They remain, 18 months later, a deadly and lasting legacy of the military onslaught.

According to Amnesty International, cluster munitions and other types of unexploded ordnance (OXOs) from the 2006 conflict in Lebanon have killed at least 40 people and wounded a further 240 civilians since the cessation of hostilities on August 14, 2006.

In addition, most UXOs have contaminated parts of South Lebanon where nearly half the population relies on agriculture, thus crippling socio-economic development in these already impoverished areas.

Teams attempting to clear areas of UXOs, in Siddiqin and throughout Lebanon, face a number of day-to-day challenges aside from the dangerous and overwhelming task of disabling the cluster munitions.

For instance, many contaminated areas contain kitchen gardens and greenhouses, areas where vegetation goes quickly and thickly - obscuring the munitions' location, and adding to the already time-consuming and arduous work faced by UNMACC personnel. Additionally, damaged and destroyed buildings may contain munitions, requiring armored mechanical units to meticulously remove and spread the debris in safe areas, before manual operators can conduct a visual search of the rubble.

Despite critical voices within Israel condemning Israeli cluster-bomb usage, including the recently published Winograd report, one of the major obstacles facing UXO clearance personnel is a lack of Israeli cooperation.

"All these weapons systems are computerized and grid references are entered before the bombs drop. Not receiving the cluster bomb strike data from the Israelis remains our biggest obstacle to clearance" UNMACC spokeswomen Dahlia Farran told the IRIN news agency last week.

© 2008 The Daily Star

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