Following on a statement by an Israeli commander that the Israeli army fired at least 1.2 million cluster bomblets on Lebanon during the war, the majority of which were fired when hostilities were largely over, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator verified that number and harshly criticized the Israeli use of cluster bombs.
“The outrageous fact is that nearly all of these munitions were fired in the last three to four days of the war,” David Shearer, the United Nations (UN) humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon, told a news conference in Beirut Tuesday.
The United Nations coordinator added, “Most bomblets were fired by the time the conflict had been largely resolved in the form of Resolution 1701″, adding, “We know these (cluster) munitions have a failure rate and it seems to me extraordinary that they were fired off in the last hours of the war into areas where civilian populations were known to be going,” Shearer said.
“For a humanitarian person, it defies belief that this would happen.”
Meanwhile, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland has called Israel “completely immoral” for using cluster bombs in residential areas.
Shearer, the UN humanitarian coordinator, said that Israeli authorities have not given any explanation as to why they fired so many cluster bombs just as the war was clearly drawing to a close, nor have they responded to a UN Request for the map coordinates of the cluster bomb strikes to hasten clearance efforts.
It is estimated that 30-40% of the cluster bombs which were fired by Israel failed to explode on impact, and remain a tremendous hazard for civilians who have returned home. Since the war’s end, at least 15 civilians have been killed in encounters with unexploded cluster bombs, and 83 wounded, of whom 23 are children.
Only about 17,000 of the unexploded bomblets have been defused so far, and the United Nations says it could take up to 30 months to destroy most of the unexploded sub-munitions. The British-based LandMine Action group has said clearing the south could take a decade.
Clearance efforts have so far focused on villages, schools and playing areas, but will soon shift towards farmland, which provides 70 percent of household incomes in the south, said Shearer.
“The cluster munitions are stopping farmers from getting out to their fields and resuming their farming activities,” he said.
The statements from the United Nations officials verified the statement of the Israeli commander who resigned last week, who said at that time that the army he commanded had “covered towns with cluster bombs”, admitting “what we did is insane and monstrous”. Over 1,000 civilians were killed during the 34-day Israeli invasion of Lebanon in July, many of them by U.S.-supplied cluster bombs fired by the Israeli military