Friday, December 12, 2008

Israel Litters Lebanon: Cluster Bombs, Land Mines & UXO

If the Israélis estimated their landmines, booby traps and unspent clusterbomb bomblets as a de facto buffer zone in southern Lebanon then the measure backfired.

If the Israélis are having difficulty remembering where they placed their unexploded ordinance how are Lebanese civilians returning to their homes in the south to fair in the roulette of death these traps represent?

Left: An Israéli army tank takes a hill top near the southern border town of Wazzani, Lebanon.

An Israéli soldier was killed and three others wounded in southern Lebanon when their tank drove over a landmine. - one of the many left over by the Israélis after they withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000, ending 22 years of brutal occupation.

Left: Israéli soldiers at the Israélo-Lebanese frontier after the deadly explosion.

Providing maps for these minefields is required from Israél under UN cease-fire resolution 1701 that ended the latest fighting.

Above: The map shows the extent of mine and/or unexploded ordinance problems in Lebanon (shaded in pink)

Israél dropped at least 15 thousand cluster bombs, each carrying anywhere from 80 to 600 small bomblets, [of softball size] on hundreds of villages in southern Lebanon during its recent war against Hizballah. These cluster bombs have a dud rate [not exploding on contact] of about 30% to 40%. The bomblets that failed to explode are now a deadly trap for civilians.

UN officials estimate that southern Lebanon is littered with more than a million cluster-bomb bomblets dropped by Israel in the waning days of the war. The deadly bombs are stuck in the branches of olive trees and the broad leaves of banana trees. They are on rooftops, mixed in with rubble, littered across fields, farms, driveways, roads and outside schools.

At least eighteen people were recently, killed and 109 others wounded from these unexploded bomblets. The removal of cluster bombs will take over a year to complete. In addition to this new danger it is estimated that there are still some 2,500 minefields containing 800,000 landmines.

According to UNIFIL officials, at the current rate of clearance, it will take approximately 37 years to clear Lebanese land of mines. The cleanup cost of this hazard has been estimated at a billion US dollars.

DANGER DO NOT ENTER - de facto militarized zone

Israél has refused to hand over maps of landmines planted in southern Lebanon during and after the occupation as a ploy to prevent the movement of Hizballah – essentially, creating a buffer zone inside Lebanon. It’s a particularly, cruel form of strategy for those who aren’t guerillas and who also happen to be its major victims.

The vast majority of the mines were laid by Israéli forces in the last two decades. The Israéli Defense Force (IDF), breached U.N. peace-keeping lines to plant booby-traps close to the Litani River, an area consisting in part of arable land and farmland.

Around every artillery position or military outpost previously, occupied by the IDF, or their SLA collaborators, lie acres of dormant ordinance waiting to explode at the slightest misstep. This problem is not confined to the south. In the Bekaa Valley, the Lebanese Army (LA), estimates approximately eleven tons of mines and unexploded ordinance (UXO), are scattered in a forty four square mile area inhabited by 40,000 people. That area, much of which is farmland, is highly contaminated with cluster bombs and UXO.

The social impact of this threat is devastating. Farmland can not be used safely, and convincing villagers of the danger and keeping them off farmland is a tremendous challenge. In a country as small as Lebanon, the civilian dependence on farmland for subsistence is critical. The vast amount of UXO in effect creates no-go zones, which depolutates vast areas.

Left: The soil is dark with iron mineralisation (normal metal detectors may be useless in these conditions) and shallow over limestone rocks.

Landmines, cluster bombs as death traps in everyday life
In an interview on Democracy Now Bilal Beydoun explains the danger posed by unexploded ordinance: "I found an unexploded bomb on my front porch and an unexploded missile on my back porch. And I don't know where I’m going to sleep tonight. I mean, I can't even go in my backyard, because the grass is high, and you just can't go back there. You don't know where you're going to step. Your next step might be your last step."
Another Lebanese villager in the south complained: "You can’t walk in this area. You can see all the bombs around you. You might step on one of these. You can see it. Boom! Kill you."
The UN Mine Action Coordination Center (UNMACC) will coordinate the expansion of clearance efforts to mitigate the increasing deadly threat.

In addition to the ongoing TV, radio and leaflet/poster campaigns on UXO safety and awareness, UNICEF with the assistance of numerous NGOs, plan further action on Mine Risk Education and Mine Victim Assistance.

Left: Shepherds in the valley in the foreground have received mine injuries. Snow and water dislodged mines into the ravines below.

Background - A UXO littered Lebanese landscape

The recent war exacerbates a longstanding problem with unexploded weapons in Lebanon. The problem of landmines in Lebanon goes back to WWII. Armed forces from several States, including Lebanon, Israél, and the US, as well as numerous non-state groups, used explosive ordinance and landmines until the end of the Israéli occupation on May 24, 2000. Consequently, antipersonnel mines, antivehicle mines and UXO can be found throughout the country.

An estimated 75 percent of the hundreds of thousands of buried landmines are in the immediate area of the U.N. delineated Blue Line near the border, affecting more than 100,000 inhabitants. The remaining 200,000 mines are scattered throughout the rest of the country. In June 2005, the LA stated that 3,975 landmine casualties (1,835 killed and 2,140 injured) had been identified since 1970.

Clearing the landmines - an uphill battle

The LA has neither the technical ability nor the resources to manage the problem. This has resulted in a high rate of casualties. An additional obstacle to neutralizing unexploded ordinance is the fact that they do not possess necessary information about the weaponry. Some of this information is classified by the governments that sell the ordinance or mines, including the US, the main supplier of Israéli armament. Although, Israél is also, a producer of landmines.

Israéli subversion of UN resolutions

Following the Israéli withdrawal from most of Lebanon in 2000, the UN made the following recommendations on February 16, 2001:
- To recognize and treat the situation of landmines and UXO in Lebanon as a humanitarian crisis;

- To pressure Israél to cooperate. Specifically, to compel Israél, in whatever ways possible, to produce complete and precise information regarding the location, numbers and types of mines it planted in Lebanon;

- To pressure the US and other countries that supplied the weaponry to provide specific technical assistance to Lebanon with regard to render-safe procedures for their weaponry;
The landmine maps provision adopted in UNSC resolution 1701 was part of a Hizballah-Lebanese government seven-point plan put forward at the international conference on the crisis in Rome on July 26, 2006. The landmine issue, the occupied Sha'aba Farms area and the release of Lebanese prisoners from Israéli prisons have been goals of the Lebanese government, as early as 2000 and are not exclusive Hizballah demands.

UNSC resolution 1701 states in pertinent parts:
OP8. provision to the United Nations of all remaining maps of land mines in Lebanon in Israél's possession;
The Government of Israél has addressed the question of these maps in the same manner it treats other issues -- with procrastination and prefabrication. The maps received by Lebanon and UNIFIL were incomplete and covered only very small areas of the territory that was under Israéli occupation. Often the tendered maps indicated minefields, but did not contain information about the actual number or location of the mines within the fields. What are the Israéli motives for deliberately, comfounding efforts to rid Lebanon of dangerous ordinance?

Israél's northern border is a virtual fortress. The laying of hundreds of thousands of ordinance and booby-traps in southern Lebanon amounts to an overkill. Israél defends its northern border with cordons of electrified fences and mines equipped with sophisticated detection devices, which make any infiltration nearly impossible. The electronic monitors can locate any intrusion within a third of a mile. Patrol roads run behind the line, covered with constant mobile and foot patrols on the move day and night. The sophisticated fence system consists of control panels that give early warning of anyone trying to cross. There are also ground, infra-red, radio and television monitors at strategic points and routine road patrols along the security road, with vehicles on lookout day and night. Other than the standard land-mines, foot patrols or observation posts, other defensive measures such as sattelite and airborne assets exist. The border fence system is an ample last line of defense.

In light of these austere security measures the so-called buffer zone lends concern to the skeptic about the underlying purpose of saturating southern Lebanon with landmines and UXO. After six years of mirrors and sleight of hand diplomacy, Israél has yet to submit accurate landmine maps. Israél must not choose to ignore yet, another UN resolution, and continue to hamper critical efforts to restore normal living conditions in southern Lebanon. Israél should embrace this "opportunity" to assist in correcting the abuses of the past – and release the documents that can prevent further injuries or deaths of innocent civilians. The international community must remain vigilant and rein in Israél from the continued use of these unexploded munitions to extort concessions from Lebanon, prevent mobility and usage of lands by keeping the Lebanese population hostage in their own country.

Israél's rush order to the US to ‘quickly’ send more multi-head cluster bombs implicates it further in its duplicitous depopulation scheme. These cluster bombs would have served to cleanse more people from southern Lebanon had the US sent the extra cluster bombs. Fortunately, a well-placed leak, media exposure and public outcry dessuaded the Bush administration from sending the shipments.

There’s also the all-important matter of the waters of the Litani River in southern Lebanon to compile in the litany of Israéli motivation of devastation. The IDF might as well prepare the terrain for an eventual annexation by making conditions in the area inhabitable. One-third of the 650,000 residents of southern Lebanon have been prevented from returning home because of these cluster-bombs. Israél has thus, prepared south Lebanon with vast amounts of UXO as a de facto buffer zone and more.

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