Israel/Lebanon: New appeal launched as cluster bomb death toll mounts

26 dead, 186 injured as Israel fails to hand over vital cluster bomb maps

Amnesty International has issued a new ‘urgent action’ appeal over unexploded cluster bombs in Lebanon following the Israel/Hizbullah conflict. Latest reports show the death toll rising while Israel has still failed to provide up-to-date maps detailing the location of unexploded munitions.

Amnesty International’s membership is writing to Israel’s Ministry of Defence calling on the military authorities to immediately provide maps to the United Nations while imposing a complete moratorium on the use of cluster munitions by any its forces.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Mike Blakemore said:

“It is totally unacceptable that Israel has failed to cooperate fully with the UN over clearing up cluster bombs and that lives are being lost.

“Israel’s heavy use of cluster bombs has sown a deadly legacy in Lebanon and it must now urgently hand over maps that could save the lives of innocent civilians, many of them Children's rights.”

Cluster munitions spread small bomblets over a wide area, many of which do not explode on impact but remain live and lethal. Children's rights are particularly vulnerable and some have been killed while playing in their towns and villages. Other people have been killed while investigating their homes for damage following the war and others while working on their land.

Amnesty International delegates in Lebanon during August and September met two 12-year old girls, Marwa and Sikne Me'ri, and a 10-year-old boy, Hassan Tehini, who were injured when a cluster bomb exploded on 17 August near their home in the village of Ait al-Shaab, south Lebanon. Hassan had serious stomach injuries and doctors feared for his life, while the two girls suffered shrapnel wounds all over their bodies.

The UN Mine Action Coordination Center (UN MACC), which is responsible for organising clearance of unexploded ordnance in Lebanon, has identified hundreds more bomb strike areas that are contaminated with unexploded bombs. On 14 December, UN MACC reported that it had identified 832 sites contaminated with Israeli cluster bombs in south Lebanon. Ninety per cent of the cluster bomb strikes, according to a senior UN official, occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when a ceasefire was in sight. It is estimated that clearance work will have to continue for at least one year.

Israel has yet to respond adequately to UN requests to hand over maps detailing the areas it targeted with cluster bombs. The maps are needed to assist bomb clearance and so reduce the potential for further civilian casualties. According to the UN MACC, Israel had provided only some maps which are inadequate, as they refer only to areas "likely to contain unexploded ordnance," and do not indicate whether they are cluster bombs or other unexploded ordnance.

Although the Israeli army reportedly provided the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with maps on 9 October, these covered only minefields it laid during its occupation of south Lebanon from 1978 until 2000. According to UNIFIL, the Israeli army gave them "maps of minefields in south Lebanon as of June 2000 after their withdrawal." The maps, in turn, were given to UN MACC.

In a meeting with Amnesty International's Secretary General on 7 December, Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh told Amnesty International that, as far as he was aware, the Israeli army did not possess maps showing in detail the locations in Lebanon in which Israeli forces used cluster munitions. If this is correct, and Israel does not possess maps of the areas into which its forces fired cluster bombs, this would be an indication that Israeli forces used these weapons indiscriminately and without taking due precautions to protect civilians who could be placed at risk by their use.

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