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Lebanon: cluster munitions set to haunt civilians for years to come

30-07-2010 Feature

Lebanon is one of the 107 States that signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which entered into force today. Four years after the five-week conflict in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah, unexploded cluster munitions continue to kill and maim civilians. Israel used cluster munitions containing up to four million individual bomblets, of which hundreds of thousands failed to explode on impact. These devices contaminated an area of 43 square kilometres in and around the villages of southern Lebanon.

 
  ©LMAC    
 
  South Lebanon. A member of the Lebanese Army's Mine Action Centre at work, screening a field contaminated with cluster munitions.    
   
  ©ICRC    
 
  Hilta, Lebanon. Ali Chibli sitting in his home under a photo of his son who was killed in the cluster bomb explosion and another of his second son, who survived the blast.    
   
  ©ICRC    
 
  Hilta, Lebanon. The peaceful looking pine playground near Ali's house, which turned out to be a killing field for his sons. 
    

Shepherd Ali Hussein Chibli and his family were among the early victims of cluster munitions in Lebanon. Ali lost a leg, one of his sons was killed and another suffered severe abdominal injuries, all as a result of cluster bombs dropped on their village of Hilta, which lies near the border with Israel.

" Those cluster bombs changed everything. Basically, they destroyed our lives, " Ali recalls. His children were only 12 and 13 when a cluster bomb exploded in October 2006, a couple of months after conflict had ended. They were playing under the pine trees near the house when they stepped on a bomblet. " Their playground was actually a killing field, and this area was supposed to have been cleared. "

The curse of cluster bombs struck the Chibli family again a year and a half later, when Ali lost his leg in an explosion as he tended his sheep near the village. Since then, Ali has had to sell his herd and a piece of land in order to feed his family and pay the costs of surgery and rehabilitation for himself and his son. Ali's wife is now baking bread to bring in a little cash for the family, while Ali himself takes whatever odd jobs he can get.

Losing a son was the most traumatic part of the Chibli family's cluster munitions tragedy. " I wouldn't have minded losing my leg and my property if my son had lived, " Ali emphasizes. " And the most frightening thing is that only God knows how many more victims these evil things will claim. "

Cluster munitions have killed 46 people and injured 340 in Lebanon since August 2006, according to the official counts of the Lebanese Mine Action Centre (LMAC) of the Leb anese army. De-mining activities started immediately after the end of the fighting on 14 August 2006, involving UN agencies and international NGOs in addition to the LMAC. General Mohammed Fehmi is in charge of the LMAC. He estimates that some 43 square kilometres were contaminated by cluster munitions.

" Cluster bombs are definitely the worst munitions to deal with, " explains Fehmi. " Landmines and other ordnance are much easier, as long as you have maps. " The reason cluster munitions are so dangerous is that as many as four out of ten fail to explode on impact. And the older they are, the higher the failure rate.

So far, almost 200,000 unexploded cluster munitions have been destroyed. No-one knows how many more are still lying around, waiting to be set off by an unwitting child or farmer. Fehmi is under no illusions about his work: " It's unrealistic to hope for a totally cluster-munition-free Lebanon. There's no way we'll ever achieve that. "

The LMAC chief estimates that de-mining activities will continue for several years. In addition to cluster munitions, there are the land mines laid by Israel in southern Lebanon and those laid by the various local militias in different parts of the country during the decades of fighting that have plagued his country.