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Cluster bombs: Israel’s continuing war on Lebanese civilians

25 September 2006. A World to Win News Service.

Six-year-old Abbas Yusef Shibli was playing with three friends when he tried to pick up what looked like a perfume bottle. He suffered a ruptured colon and gall bladder, perforated lung and torn nerve and has so far undergone two blood transfusions. His three playmates were also injured, though not as seriously. Mahmud Yaqub, a 38-year-old shepherd, shattered his leg when he stepped on a cluster bomb. He relates that the hillside where his goats normally pasture is littered with bombs. Thirteen-year-old Hassan Hussein Hamadi remains in a coma after trying to pick up a canister-type cluster bomb. In critical condition from bleeding in the intestines, liver and brain, Hussein Qaduh, an accounting student, was walking along a football field when a cluster bomb exploded. After investigation of that area, many hundreds of unexploded bomblets littered the field and paths.  

According to a disgruntled commander of the Israeli Defence Forces’ Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS), in the last 10 days of the war the Israeli army dropped over 1.2 million cluster bombs in southern Lebanon. He said, “What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.” The commander went on to explain that because of the inability to strike individual targets precisely, units would flood the battlefield with munitions, accounting for the littered and explosive landscape of post-war Lebanon.  

By some accounts these figures are conservative. They do not account for munitions launched in other ways besides MLRS.  

A United Nations report stated that 90% of the Israeli cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the war, just on the eve of the ceasefire. A UN team that had been clearing Lebanon of land mines laid by Israeli soldiers when they retreated from Lebanon 20 years ago had to shift focus to dismantling cluster bombs.  

The bomblets are the size of a can of soda and sometimes look like toys. Israeli army reservists are taught that these bombs are intended for use in a full-scale war. Israel calls them “judgement day weapons”. When fired at close range, almost half of the bomblets lie lethally dormant, waiting to be activated. These small unexploded and indiscriminating bombs landed in olive and citrus trees, fields and gardens; littered playgrounds, highways, homes, and streets; rattled around on roof tops and nestled into wood piles waiting to explode in civilians’ hands.  

Cluster bombs are gruesomely popular when warring states want to punish the civilian population. NATO forces used cluster bombs in Serbia. They were extensively used by the US during the Vietnam war, and also in Afghanistan and Iraq. The UK also uses cluster bombs in Iraq.  

Many outraged human rights groups maintain that the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas is criminal and against the Geneva Conventions and that Israel operates outside the rules of war.

These dormant bombs effectively become land mines, according to Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch. Amnesty International has called on Israel to provide maps of the cluster-bombed areas to enable faster cleanup of the war-ravaged agricultural area of southern Lebanon; and called on the US, the main supplier of arms to Israel, to commit to a worldwide moratorium on their use. But a recent US Senate vote defeated an amendment to ban the use of cluster bombs near populated civilian areas, allowing the US a free hand to continue supplying Israel with these maiming bombs and using them on its own.  

According to independent monitors, Israeli cluster bombs killed 83 Lebanese in the month following the 14 August ceasefire. The casualty figures will rise sharply in the next month as villagers begin the harvest, picking olives from trees whose leaves and branches hide bombs that explode at the smallest movement.