TWN Info Service on Health Issues (November 06/2)

3 November 2006

Lebanon: Casualties continue despite end of Israeli invasion

A report released recently claims that Lebanese civilians continue to be killed or maimed by unexploded cluster bombs used by the Israeli Air Force during the invasion. Despite their devastating effects on life, livelihoods and the environment, countries like US, UK, Russia and Israel continue to use them.

The article below is reproduced with permission from the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6124, 20 October 2006. 

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

Health: Israel/Lebanon conflict leaves deadly legacy

By Haider Rizvi, IPS, New York, 18 October 2006

The Israeli war against Lebanon was over soon after the United Nations brokered a ceasefire agreement last August. But while that may be true for outsiders, it is not for the Lebanese.

At least three to four people are getting killed or maimed every day as a result of cluster bombs used by the Israeli Air Force during the war, according to a new study released here Wednesday.

Entitled "Foreseeable Harm: The use and impact of cluster munitions in Lebanon: 2006," the study points out that among those killed and wounded were numerous children under the age of 16.

In the final 72 hours before the ceasefire, which officially took effect on August 14, the Israeli military fired 1,800 cluster rockets on southern Lebanon, containing 1.2 million sub-munitions, many of which remain unexploded.

"Three days of indiscriminate cluster munition use have left a deadly legacy in southern Lebanon that will take years to clean up," said Thomas Nash, co-author of the 52-page study and coordinator of the Cluster Munitions Coalition.

"Because they do not work as intended, cluster munitions fail in huge numbers and there may be as many as one million unexploded sub-munitions littering roads, schools, wells, houses, gardens and fields," he added.

Nash and others at Landmine Action, a London-based group that carried out the study, said cluster munitions have seriously affected livelihoods by blocking water supplies, disrupting work to restore power lines and preventing excavation of rubble.

The research points out that due to the presence of cluster munitions, most farmers were unable to harvest in the summer and it would be hard for them to plant new crops in the winter.

UN officials at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations who are constantly monitoring the situation in south Lebanon agree with Nash and other researchers.

"This study reflects the reality on the ground," Justin Brady, a planning officer at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, told IPS.

Brady said that in collaboration with several non-governmental organisations, the UN has been engaged in de-mining operations in southern Lebanon since September, and that so far it has cleared over 45,000 cluster weapons.

"We could be facing up to one million of them," he said, "but they are certainly in hundreds of thousands."

Alarmed by the devastation that cluster munitions have caused to human life and the environment in south Lebanon, Landmine Action and many other groups are now launching a campaign to ban such weapons.

Civil society pressure has already led to a ban on the use of cluster munitions by Belgium in February 2006 and similar national campaigns are underway in Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and elsewhere.

Groups have also called on Britain, one of the world's largest users of the weapons, to immediately stop the use of cluster munitions, destroy stockpiles and support an international ban.

An international meeting is due to take place in Geneva next month to discuss the use of cluster munitions, but activists said that they expect certain states would try hard to block progress by arguing that they can be used in a precise or surgical way.

While a growing number of countries now acknowledge the humanitarian problems of cluster munitions, so far only Belgium and Norway have officially stopped their use.

But key states such as Israel, Britain, the United States and Russia claim that their cluster munitions are legal.

Activists argue that if that is the case, then the consistent pattern of civilian harm caused by these weapons, of which the casualty toll in Lebanon is only the most recent example, makes it clear that international law is inadequate.

"The claim that these faulty weapons can be used in a precise or surgical way is a lie. The evidence is there to see littering the ruined houses and olive groves of southern Lebanon," said Landmine Action Director Simon Conway.

"Every day, women and children are killed or injured as they sift through the rubble of their former homes by cluster munitions that failed to go off when they should have," he added. "If they were any other kind of product, they would have been recalled. They should be banned."

Groups like Landmine Action accuse Israel of violating a 1976 secret agreement that restricted the use of certain US-supplied cluster munitions. They say the repeated violations since the 1970s highlight the complete inadequacy of such bilateral assurances as a basis for civilian protection from these weapons.

Researchers note that despite repeated breaches, last year, the United States granted a license worth over $600,000 for the sale of 1,300 M26 cluster rockets to Israel. Israel had requested speedy delivery of these rockets during the war, but the US State Department was still considering the situation.

Various UN agencies had already endorsed the NGOs' demand by calling for a freeze on these weapons in 2003, the Peacekeeping Department's Brady said, adding that he expected the same this time round.