In Lebanon's Rubble, Aftershocks of War
Saturday, August 26, 2006
TYRE, Lebanon -- Hassan Tehini does not want to go home anymore.
"I was so homesick for Aita al-Shaab. Now I don't miss it at all," the 10-year-old said weakly, trying to cough gently as he slumped against the wall of a hospital in this coastal city.
Lucky to be alive, Hassan was recovering from massive abdominal wounds inflicted by what he and two cousins thought was a small ball, unearthed from the rubble of their home town and perfectly suited for a game of catch. It was really one of the small explosive devices spewed by so-called cluster munitions -- bombs, shells or rockets used by the Israeli military that burst in midair and spread smaller bombs over a wide area.
Hassan and his two cousins, like dozens of other Lebanese civilians, became casualties of war after the 33-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah had subsided. Since the guns fell silent on Aug. 14, unexploded cluster bombs dropped by Israeli warplanes or duds fired by artillery have killed 12 people and wounded 39, according to Chris Clarke, head of the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center attached to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Of those, two of the dead and 11 of the wounded were children.
Todd Hart, another U.N. de-mining specialist, told journalists Thursday that U.N. and Lebanese government mine-disposal teams have discovered and destroyed a dozen normal bombs, plus 1,800 smaller bomblets sprayed out from cluster bombs.
Clarke said that "as of today, we have confirmed 289 cluster-bomb locations. This figure, which was 140 on Tuesday, is rising daily. And many of them are indeed inside residential areas."
"We are finding many cluster bombs in the rubble -- they just blend in," he noted. One type commonly being found, he said, is shaped like a small green ball, larger than a golf ball and smaller than a tennis ball.
Clarke said the State Department was investigating whether Israel had violated U.S. guidelines for American-made cluster munitions that ban their use in civilian areas.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are also looking into the use of cluster munitions, he said. In a report released this week, Amnesty International said it had found huge craters in roads linking southern villages, attributing them to Israeli aerial bombardment and artillery fire.
"In some cases, cluster bomb impacts were identified," the report said. "The hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who fled the bombardment now face the danger of unexploded munitions as they head home," it added.
A military spokesman in Israel said, "All the weapons and munitions used by the Israel Defense Forces are legal under international law, and their use conforms with international standards."
Shawn Messick, an American assigned to the U.N. Joint Logistics Center from the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, explained that cluster weapons are designed to burst in midair, scattering small bomblets that do not all detonate immediately.