United Nations - The U.N. humanitarian chief on Wednesday accused Israel of "shocking" and "completely immoral" behavior for dropping large numbers of cluster bombs on Lebanon when a cease-fire in its war with Hezbollah was in sight.
Jan Egeland said Israel had either made a "terribly wrong decision" or had "started thinking afterwards." The remarks were unusually harsh even for Egeland, who often ignores an unwritten rule that U.N. officials should not criticize member states too severely.
"What's shocking and I would say, to me, completely immoral is that 90 percent of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution," Jan Egeland said at a news conference.
The spokeswoman for Israel's mission to the U.N., Anat Friedman, said she had no immediate comment on Egeland's remarks. In Israel, the Israeli army referred to its earlier statement that all the weapons it uses "are legal under international law and their use conforms with international standards."
An unusual number of cluster bombs used in the war did not detonate on impact, possibly because they were old, Egeland said. Usually 10 percent to 15 percent of the bomblets fail to explode immediately. According to some estimates, up to 70 percent of the Israeli bomblets failed to explode on impact.
Civilians returning to their homes in southern Lebanon are experiencing "massive problems," as a result of these unexploded munitions, Egeland said.
Approximately 250,000 Lebanese, of the 1 million displaced, cannot move back into their homes, many because of unexploded munitions.
"Every day people are maimed, wounded and are killed by these ordnance," Egeland said.
"Every day we have to revise our count of what the scope of the problem is," said Chris Clark, program manager of the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center in southern Lebanon. "We just don't know how big the problem is, only that it is huge at the moment and getting bigger every day."
Human Rights Watch researchers have said the density of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon was higher than in any place they had seen.
Egeland urged countries that sold cluster bombs to the Israelis, including the United States, to have "serious talks with Israel."
The U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center, which has so far assessed 85 percent of the bombed areas in Lebanon, has identified 379 bomb strike areas that are contaminated with as many as 100,000 unexploded bomblets.
Egeland said about 750,000 people had managed to return home, which he called "remarkable."
Egeland will travel to Stockholm on Thursday to launch a revised humanitarian appeal for Lebanon.
The appeal has raised about $90 million, which Egeland indicated would be enough for the initial, emergency response. The Lebanese government will launch its own appeal for several hundred million dollars to continue the rebuilding.
"What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs," the head of an IDF rocket unit in Lebanon said regarding the use of cluster bombs and phosphorous shells during the war.
Quoting his battalion commander, the rocket unit head stated that the IDF fired around 1,800 cluster bombs, containing over 1.2 million cluster bomblets.
In addition, soldiers in IDF artillery units testified that the army used phosphorous shells during the war, widely forbidden by international law. According to their claims, the vast majority of said explosive ordinance was fired in the final 10 days of the war.
The rocket unit commander stated that Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) platforms were heavily used in spite of the fact that they were known to be highly inaccurate.
MLRS is a track or tire carried mobile rocket launching platform, capable of firing a very high volume of mostly unguided munitions. The basic rocket fired by the platform is unguided and imprecise, with a range of about 32 kilometers. The rockets are designed to burst into sub-munitions at a planned altitude in order to blanket enemy army and personnel on the ground with smaller explosive rounds.
The use of such weaponry is controversial mainly due to its inaccuracy and ability to wreak great havoc against indeterminate targets over large areas of territory, with a margin of error of as much as 1,200 meters from the intended target to the area hit.
The cluster rounds which don't detonate on impact, believed by the United Nations to be around 40% of those fired by the IDF in Lebanon, remain on the ground as unexploded munitions, effectively littering the landscape with thousands of land mines which will continue to claim victims long after the war has ended.
Because of their high level of failure to detonate, it is believed that there are around 500,000 unexploded munitions on the ground in Lebanon. To date 12 Lebanese civilians have been killed by these mines since the end of the war.
According to the commander, in order to compensate for the inaccuracy of the rockets and 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.
When his reserve duty came to a close, the commander in question sent a letter to Defense Minister Amir Peretz outlining the use of cluster munitions, a letter which has remained unanswered.
'Excessive injury and unnecessary suffering'
It has come to light that IDF soldiers fired phosphorous rounds in order to cause fires in Lebanon. An artillery commander has admitted to seeing trucks loaded with phosphorous rounds on their way to artillery crews in the north of Israel.
A direct hit from a phosphorous shell typically causes severe burns and a slow, painful death.
International law forbids the use of weapons that cause "excessive injury and unnecessary suffering", and many experts are of the opinion that phosphorous rounds fall directly in that category.
The International Red Cross has determined that international law forbids the use of phosphorous and other types of flammable rounds against personnel, both civilian and military.
IDF: No violation of international law
In response, the IDF Spokesman's Office stated that "International law does not include a sweeping prohibition of the use of cluster bombs. The convention on conventional weaponry does not declare a prohibition on [phosphorous weapons], rather, on principles regulating the use of such weapons.
"For understandable operational reasons, the IDF does not respond to [accounts of] details of weaponry in its possession.
"The IDF makes use only of methods and weaponry which are permissible under international law. Artillery fire in general, including MLRS fire, were used in response solely to firing on the state of Israel."
The Defense Minister's office said it had not received messages regarding cluster bomb fire.
The war in Lebanon has not ended.
Every day, some of the million bomblets which were fired by Israeli artillery during the last three days of the conflict kill four people in southern Lebanon and wound many more.
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. Lebanon's farmers are caught in a deadly dilemma: to risk the harvest, or to leave the produce on which they depend to rot in the fields.
In a coma in a hospital bed in Nabatiyeh lies Hussein Ali Ahmad, a 70-year-old man from the village of Yohmor. He was pruning an orange tree outside his house last week when he dislodged a bomblet; it exploded, sending pieces of shrapnel into his brain, lungs and kidneys. "I know he can hear me because he squeezes my hand when I talk to him," said his daughter, Suwad, as she sat beside her father's bed in the hospital.
At least 83 people have been killed by cluster munitions since the ceasefire, according to independent monitors.
Some Israeli officers are protesting at the use of cluster bombs, each containing 644 small but lethal bomblets, against civilian targets in Lebanon. A commander in the MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems) unit told the Israeli daily Haaretz that the army had fired 1,800 cluster rockets, spraying 1.2 million bomblets over houses and fields. "In Lebanon, we covered entire villages with cluster bombs," he said. "What we did there was crazy and monstrous." What makes the cluster bombs so dangerous is that 30 per cent of the bomblets do not detonate on impact. They can lie for years - often difficult to see because of their small size, on roofs, in gardens, in trees, beside roads or in rubbish - waiting to explode when disturbed.
In Nabatiyeh, the modern 100-bed government hospital has received 19 victims of cluster bombs since the end of the war. As we arrived, a new patient, Ahmad Sabah, a laboratory technician at the hospital, was being rushed into the emergency room. A burly man of 45, he was unconscious on a stretcher. Earlier in the morning, he had gone up to the flat roof of his house to check the water tank. While there, he must have touched a pile of logs he was keeping for winter fires. Unknown to him, a bomblet had fallen into the woodpile a month earlier. The logs shielded him from the full force of the blast, but when we saw him, doctors were still trying to find out the extent of his injuries.
"For us, the war is still going on, though there was a cease-fire on 14 August," said Dr Hassan Wazni, the director of the hospital. "If the cluster bombs had all exploded at the time they landed, it would not be so bad, but they are still killing and maiming people."
The bomblets may be small, but they explode with devastating force. On the morning of the ceasefire, Hadi Hatab, an 11-year old boy, was brought dying to the hospital. "He must have been holding the bomb close to him," Dr Wazni said. "It took off his hands and legs and the lower part of his body."
We went to Yohmor to find where Hussein Ali Ahmad had received his terrible wounds while pruning his orange tree. The village is at the end of a broken road, six miles south of Nabatiyeh, and is overlooked by the ruins of Beaufort Castle, a crusader fortress on a ridge above the deep valley along which the Litani river runs.
Israeli bombs and shells have turned about a third of the houses in Yohmor into concrete sandwiches, one floor falling on top of another under the impact of explosions. Some families camp in the ruins. Villagers said that they were most worried by the cluster bombs still infesting their gardens, roofs and fruit trees. In the village street, were the white vehicles of the Manchester-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG), whose teams are trying to clear the bomblets.
It is not an easy job. Whenever members of one of the MAG teams finds and removes a bomblet, they put a stick, painted red on top and then yellow, in the ground. There are so many of these sticks that it looks as if some sinister plant had taken root and is flourishing in the village.
"The cluster bombs all landed in the last days of the war," said Nuhar Hejazi, a surprisingly cheerful 65-year-old woman. "There were 35 on the roof of our house and 200 in our garden so we can't visit our olive trees." People in Yohmor depend on their olive trees and the harvest should begin now before the rains, but the trees are still full of bomblets. "My husband and I make 20 cans of oil a year which we need to sell," Mrs Hejazi says. "Now we don't know what to do." The sheer number of the bomblets makes it almost impossible to remove them all.
Frederic Gras, a de-mining expert formerly in the French navy, who is leading the MAG teams in Yohmor, says: "In the area north of the Litani river, you have three or four people being killed every day by cluster bombs. The Israeli army knows that 30 per cent of them do not explode at the time they are fired so they become anti-personnel mines."
Why did the Israeli army do it? The number of cluster bombs fired must have been greater than 1.2 million because, in addition to those fired in rockets, many more were fired in 155mm artillery shells. One Israeli gunner said he had been told to "flood" the area at which they were firing but was given no specific targets. M. Gras, who personally defuses 160 to 180 bomblets a day, says this is the first time he seen cluster bombs used against heavily populated villages.
An editorial in Haaretz said that the mass use of this weapon by the Israeli Defence Forces was a desperate last-minute attempt to stop Hizbollah's rocket fire into northern Israel. Whatever the reason for the bombardment, the villagers in south Lebanon will suffer death and injury from cluster bombs as they pick their olives and oranges for years to come.