Eleven-year-old Ramy Shibleh was gathering pine cones outside this small southern Lebanese town, hoping to make some money to buy toys ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.
His father, Ali Shibleh, was waiting at home for Ramy and his brother Khodor, 13. He needed them to help him pick olives.
“Suddenly I heard an explosion,” Shibleh said, choking on tears. “I heard Khodor screaming ‘Ramy!’, I yelled back at him ‘Son, where is Ramy?’ He said, ‘Father, Ramy died.’ I told him ‘Khodor you are joking’, he said, ‘No, Ramy is dead.”
The brothers were heading home when the wheel of their cart jammed against what they thought was a rock.
Ramy bent down, picked up the object and as he raised his arm to throw it out of the way, it exploded, tearing off his right arm and the back of his head. He died instantly.
His brother Khodor was hit by shrapnel in the hip and is still in hospital.
Ramy’s death added to a toll still rising after Israel’s monthlong war against Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon. The object he picked up was a cluster bomblet — one of hundreds of thousands dropped by Israel on the region before an August 14 ceasefire.
During the war, nearly 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed. And lives are still being lost.
Between August 14 and October 8, around 20 people were killed in southern Lebanon by cluster munitions. Land mine activists said last month that cluster bombs are still killing or injuring three to four civilians a day, a third of them children.
The report by London-based Landmine Action said hundreds of thousands of unexploded cluster bomblets still litter the countryside, even though more than 45,000 have been cleared and destroyed.
Cluster bombs burst into bomblets and spread out near the ground. While some are said to aim destroy tanks, others are designed to kill or maim humans over a wide area.
Experts have estimated an unusually high 40 percent of the bomblets dropped on Lebanon failed to explode on impact. Around 115 people have been injured by bomblets since the war’s end.
A dud may look like a soda can or a dusty rock and can be set off by as little as a touch, packing enough force to rip off a leg or kill a child.
Israel says cluster bombs are not illegal under international law.
Such debate offers little succour to the Shiblehs.
“We came back three days after the war ended, to find these bombs placed there to burn the hearts of the people, the hearts of the mothers, and the hearts of the children’s families,” Shibleh said, weeping.
His wife relives the horror of learning of Ramy’s death.
“I heard Ramy’s friends by the shop and asked them did Khodor die? They said ‘no, it’s Ramy’. I lost consciousness,” Yosra Abdelal, 40, said.
The Landmine Action report identified 770 sites hit by cluster bombs in southern Lebanon. It said it would take another year or two to get the situation under control.
The Shibleh family say the Lebanese army failed to clear their area properly.
“The army came and defused some shells and then said ‘this area among the pines is safe and there is nothing left’. We sent for the army again … Ramy and Khodor guided them to where the bombs were but the army never came back,” said Shibleh.
“Two hours after the incident, the army came and in the same area defused 40 bomblets. Forty bomblets, and there’s still more than 40 to 50 remaining.”
“We put a big, big, big responsibility on Israel but our state, our representatives, and our presidents are also to blame. The state is responsible because nobody came here to check on us,” he said.
The bed that Ramy used to share with his sister is neatly made. A bright blue UNICEF backpack marked with his name lies on top of a wardrobe. “He used to love riding bicycles and playing football,” Abdelal said, clutching a frayed yellow jersey her son had worn the day before he died.
“He was only picking the pine nuts to buy the toys he loved.”