Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cluster bombs:
a gift of death that keeps on giving

A child plays in the streets of Aitta Shaaba, a village riddled with cluster bombs. Photograph: Scott Peterson/Getty. Guardian, U.K.

The headline in the Daily Star reads: "Israel finally hands over mine maps." I think I am supposed to be relieved -- now maybe southern Lebanon can be cleared of unexploded weapons. Then I look into the story and discover that the maps in question are the ones that Israel has withheld since its retreat from Lebanon in 2000. U.N. peacekeepers say that

despite these maps, Israel has yet to provide vital maps of the locations of cluster-bomb strikes against Lebanese towns during its 34-day offensive on the country, which UNIFIL continues to ask for.

Israeli officers have admitted that most of the largely U.S.-made bomblets were fired in the last 72 hours of the war, some 1800 rounds that have left an estimated 500,000 unexploded bombs in south Lebanon. Lebanese, many of them curious children, are injured or killed every day when they disturb the still armed munitions.

Chris Allbritton, a U.S. reporter who pioneered blogging unvarnished stories from Iraq, is now living in Beirut and writing on the aftermath of this summer's Israeli assault. See his photo of a deadly cluster bomblet here. He recently published this account in the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

"I've never seen so much like this," said Magnus Bengtsson, the supervisor on an emergency ordnance disposal team clearing cluster bomblets from a neighborhood in the small town of Hanaouay, five and half a miles southeast of Tyre and eight miles from the Israeli border. "It's more than I expected."

Bengtsson and his team are with the Swedish Rescue Services Agency. The group was contracted by the U.N. contracted for mine clearing but now helps with the immediate dangers.

As he walked through an empty field the size of a soccer pitch, Bengtsson pointed to a small, D-battery-sized object on the ground. It's an American-made m77, he said, which is designed to take out both people and armored vehicles, including tanks. The shaped charge can penetrate up to 5 inches of armor, and the casing is scored so it sends out deadly shrapnel to a radius of about 20 feet....

The cluster bomblets are preventing up to 200,000 people from returning to their homes, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, although it is unclear how many of those people still have homes.

Read the whole story.

Update: 10/22/06: Well, now Human Rights Watch says Hezbollah also fired cluster bomb weapons during the recent Lebanon war, though not on a scale approaching the Israeli barrage.

And where there's a potential profit, there's an ambitious capitalist. Reuters reports that

British arms manufacturer BAE Systems is planning to design 'green' munitions, including lead-free bullets and rockets with reduced toxins, Britain's Times reports. Also in the pipeline are jets, fighting vehicles and artillery without dangerous compounds which can "harm the environment and pose a risk to people", the company is quoted as saying....

But what about cluster bombs? They're here to stay, it seems. Britain is the latest country to join a group including the United States and China that wants to block a proposal for banning the use of cluster bombs, according to Britain's Guardian.

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