- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

TYRE, Lebanon - Three months after a United Nations-brokered cease-fire ended the 34-day conflict between Israel and Shi’ite Hezbollah militants, the fields and olive groves of southern Lebanon remain sewn with a deadly crop — unexploded cluster bombs.

On Friday, farmer Mohammed Rizk became the latest victim of the summer war. Police said he was killed and a companion was wounded as they gathered olives in the village of Kfar Roumman, near Nabatiya.

Since mid-August, when hostilities ended, 23 persons have been killed and 136 injured by cluster munitions, according to an Agence France-Presse count.

The Israelis fired hundreds of thousands of the bomblets into southern Lebanon during the monthlong conflict, but according to the United Nations, clearing them has been made more difficult by Israel’s not revealing the precise areas targeted.

It is thought that up to 40 percent of the bombs did not explode when they hit the ground, becoming deadly traps because they remain active and can detonate at the slightest movement.

Eight hundred locations have been identified provisionally, and 58,000 bomblets have been neutralized. But not one of those 800 bomb-strewn sites has been fully cleared, said Dalya Farran, spokeswoman for the Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC), a U.N. program working in the country with the Beirut government.

Since Oct. 31, 47 foreign-led teams operating under a program financed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United Nations has been working to clear southern Lebanon completely of deadly unexploded munitions by the end of 2007.

The UAE has an unlimited budget to clear an area of 233 square miles in the Nabatiya-Hasbaya-Jezzine area, where 250,000 people live. Two British organizations have been subcontracted to do some of the work, said UAE Staff Maj. Rashed al-Aryani.

Financing to clear other areas of southern Lebanon has been secured until June, according to the MACC.

“If the Israelis let us know the areas they targeted, the work could speed up,” said Ms. Farran. “At the moment, we pinpoint the locations only when alerted by the local population or military.”

She added that the cluster munitions used in Lebanon were manufactured by Israel and the United States.

Israel has not responded to U.N. requests to identify the areas targeted, nor has it said how many bombs of this kind were fired into Lebanon.

Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, last week called “on all states to implement an immediate freeze on the use of cluster munitions.”

Frederic Gras of France — who supervises five mine-clearing teams working in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia — said that in Lebanon, cluster munitions were used mainly in urban areas rather than in open countryside.

“Everywhere I went in urban parts of south Lebanon, I found cluster bomblets,” he said, adding that clearing such weapons is more difficult in built-up areas.

According to the war victims aid group Handicap International, 98 percent of cluster bomb victims are civilians. It said that of 11,044 cases recorded in 23 countries, just 125 were military and 59 were mine-removal workers.

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