Cluster Bombs a Cruel Legacy of Lebanon Conflict

Cluster bombs are not illegal, but many anti-war groups say they should be. Israel used the weapons against Hezbollah. As a result, the U.N. Mine Advisory Group says, many areas in south Lebanon are littered with thousands of unexploded "bomblets."

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Although southern Lebanon is largely quiet now after the war between Israel and Hezbollah, it's still a dangerous place. United Nations experts say the area is littered with unexploded ordnance that includes cluster bombs dropped by the Israeli air force. Since the cease-fire started, more than 20 civilians have been injured in the explosions of bombs and shells left on the battlefield.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay filed this report from southern Lebanon.

(Soundbite of children playing)

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Brothers Hassan and Hadi Mor(ph) scamper across fallen down buildings as bulldozers move in to clear the center of Idalshab(ph). It was one of the border villages hardest hit during the war. There are blocks of concrete, steel beams, shattered glass, and bits of metal everywhere. There's also unexploded ordnance. Eleven-year-old Hassan explained what happened to three other children here last week.

Mr. HASSAN MOR: (Through translator) They were going to go and look at the soldiers. We heard a bomb blew up on them. People came and picked them up and took them away. They were crying.

TARABAY: As people return to the village to salvage what they can, there children do what children do everywhere - they play; they run around and they pick up things that look strange or interesting.

Twelve-year-old Marawa al-Miri(ph) is home after nearly a week in hospital nursing injuries sustained when she picked up an unexploded cluster bomb. A purple scarf is wrapped around her pale face and there are bandages around her thin right arm and right foot. She says the bomb didn't look like an explosive.

Ms. MARAWA AL-MIRI: (Through translator) It was tied up with string, with cotton.

TARABAY: Outside Marawa's house, other children tread through scrub to show a visiting journalist another exploded bomb in the middle of the circle of stones. Sixteen-year-old Maryam Eryani(ph) says Hezbollah activists have marked that area for people to avoid, and the villagers warn their children to stay away.

Ms. MARYAM ERYANI: (Through translator) We tell them they look like toys. We say, if you see anything that looks strange, even if it's a toy, stay back. We try to scare them a little to make them keep away.

TARABAY: A cluster bomb is a large canister that can disperse anywhere from three to a thousand smaller bomblets when it explodes, almost like a volley of hand grenades, but many do not explode on impact. Chris Clark is the program manager for the United Nations Mine Action group. He dismisses rumors that the bomblets are deliberately disguised as toys, but he says cluster bombs have long been a problem in this region. Clark says since the end of hostilities in the south, at least 24 people have been injured by cluster bombs and at least two have died.

Mr. CHRIS CLARK (Program Manager, United Nations Mine Action Service): The weapon is not illegal, but it should be. Not only that it is governed by the rules of war, and they clearly state that this weapon - this cluster weapons system cannot be used in areas known to contain civilians or built up areas, and that's exactly what's happened here.

TARABAY: Clark's de-mining group has been working with the Lebanese army to clear the south of landmines since the Israeli army withdrew from Lebanon in the year 2000. He said the latest conflict and the use of cluster bombs here has set back his work by at least 12 months. Clark says one of the worst hit areas is the village of Tibnin, where he says there are unexploded bombs everywhere

Ibrahim Biri(ph) runs a gas station in Tibnin. He recalls one night during the war when he and dozens of others sought shelter in the local hospital because, as he puts it, the bombs were falling like rain.

Mr. IBRAHIM BIRI: (Through translator) We all hid inside. All the cars outside were on fire. There's a storage area for gasoline near the hospital; it's amazing that it wasn't hit.

TARABAY: Biri says all those inside the hospital had to wait for the UN explosives team to come and clear the road before they could leave. And he says there are still plenty of unexploded bombs in the village.

Mr. BIRI: (Through translator) It's a shame, a shame to use this against people. It's like you're trying to wipe out a whole people by using bombs like that.

TARABAY: Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.

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