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Lebanon: South Beirut after a month of bombing

BEIRUT, 15 August (IRIN) - At first, heavy silence hang over Haret Hreik and other areas of south Beirut early on Tuesday morning as scenes of an apocalypse emerged from the thick smoke and smell of fresh gunpowder.

Then one could discern signs of life - women weeping as they inspected what were once their homes and other fragments of their lives, all destroyed by heavy bombing by the Israeli army during the 34-day conflict between Israel and the armed wing of the Lebanese political party Hezbollah.

"You will never be forgiven, Israel", shouted an angry old woman as she broke into tears in front of a two-metre high pile of stones, once an eight-storey building. She tried to salvage some documents, a stuffed teddy bear, and three spoons, saying those were the only items she recognised to be hers.

The conflict started after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on 12 July. Israel retaliated with a month-long military offensive which targeted Hezbollah strongholds all over Lebanon.

As the neighbourhood of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Haret Hreik was particularly hard hit by Israeli air strikes. Once an overpopulated residential area with thousands of inhabitants, it looked more like ground zero of a disaster area on Tuesday, the day after a UN-brokered ceasefire brought an end to hostilities.

Piles of smoke rose from 10-storey buildings, emaciated grey cats moved among the rubble and the air was punctured by occasional explosions of what was believed to be unexploded ordinance. And when the putrid wind blew, it threw up more dust, flying papers, and photographs capturing some happy bygone occasions.

Death could be felt in every corner, as the smell of dead bodies emerged from the rubble. Some tractors were still trying to open routes for those passing by and for families rummaging through the debris of what was once a meaningful part of their lives.

Everything in Haret Hreik has the grey colours of war - the unrecognisable streets, the thirsty trees, the skeletons of severely damaged cars thrown blocks away by bombs.

Ali, 4, looked amazed at the sorry scenery. He poked his mother in tears, pointed to a shredded German flag between two buildings, left behind after the World Cup football tournament, and asked: "Do you think they hate the German team too?"

Among the debris of the Bahman Hospital in Haret Hreik, some of the displaced looked for masks, as the odour became intolerable. The smell of dead bodies and burned furniture filled the air.

The southern suburbs, the poorest parts areas of Beirut, filled hearts with a strange feeling of emptiness.

At one point, the sound of the wind became so strong that some people mistook it for the whistling of an Israeli warplane.

No journalists or photographers were allowed inside what was once known as the 'Security Square' in the Hezbollah stronghold, for fear of unexploded ordinance.

"Don't worry", said one of the Hezbollah guards to the gathered journalists, "you will have work for months to come, since clearing the rubble will take at least seven to eight weeks."

Unexploded bombs bring new dangers

Israel has used cluster bombs in Lebanon, which are known to have a high failure rate.

BEIRUT, 15 Aug 2006 (IRIN) - Lebanese who had fled air strikes during the month-long conflict with Israel, are facing a new danger as they head home: unexploded bombs and shells left behind.

"If any civilian touches them or tries to move them, they will explode," Allen Kelly, liaison for United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in Beirut, told IRIN.

Israel's military has stated that during its attacks on Hezbollah militias, following the capture of two Israeli soldiers, its air force hit 7,000 targets in Lebanon, and its navy carried out more than 2,500 bombardments along the Lebanese coast.

Normally, a small percentage of any munitions do not explode, so explosives are scattered throughout these areas.

Cluster bombs have a particularly high failure rate. According to eyewitnesses and survivors of attacks interviewed by an international lobby group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Israel used cluster bombs in areas populated with civilians in southern Lebanon.

Such munitions spread bomblets over a wide range and "have an unacceptably high failure rate (dud rate) of 14 percent, leaving behind a serious unexploded ordnance problem that will further endanger civilians", HRW said in a report.

HRW's report refers to a retired Israeli military commander who said that the Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) operations manual warns soldiers that the use of such cluster munitions creates dangerous minefields due the high dud rate.

The Israeli army has started to withdraw from south Lebanon in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which was unanimously adopted on Friday.

This is one of the stated reasons the Israeli military has warned Lebanese not to travel south of the Litani River, some 30km north of the Israeli border. "IDF forces are still operating on a defensive basis as Hezbollah terrorists are still in the area. There is also unexploded ordnance in the area," said the IDF on Monday.

Cluster bombs used by Israel have left behind a large number of 'dud' shells in Nabatiyeh, Kelly said. Lebanese army engineers are trying to detonate them, "but the problem is the absence of manpower".

UNMAS reported a number of injuries and incidents from unexploded ordnance as thousands of Lebanese moved south on Monday, including the death of a child in Tyre and 15 civilian injuries in Kfar Roumane and Nabatiyeh.

Two civilians were also killed and five others wounded, when Israeli cluster bombs exploded in several villages, according to the Lebanese police.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other organisations are undertaking an awareness campaign about unexploded ordnance with the help of mass media, the Lebanese army and police.

The campaign includes the distribution of posters and pamphlets at checkpoints, said Allan Poston, UNDP chief technical advisor for mine action.

Anyone who sees an unfamiliar object or bomb should directly report it to the nearest security point, Poston advised. "If you see anything strange do not touch it, do not move it, report it immediately," the posters say.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006

... Payvand News - 8/16/06 ... --

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