Unexploded Israeli cluster bombs, some dating back to the Vietnam war era, are exacting an increasing toll on Lebanese civilians returning home, the UN and human rights groups say.


Dalya Farran of the UN Mine Action co-ordination centre in south declared it an "emergency situation".

Figures from the Lebanese military show that eight people, including several children, have been killed and a further 38 wounded by cluster bomb explosions since the start of a ceasefire on August 14 to end a month-long conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

On Wednesday, three Lebanese bomb disposal specialists were killed by a cluster bomb in the village of Tebnin, some 15km from the Israeli border. The three Lebanese soldiers, including one officer, were dismantling a missile when they were killed, security officials said on Wednesday. It is unclear if the missile was from or Hezbollah.

Hundreds of Israeli artillery shells containing nearly 200 explosive rounds each were fired into southern during the fighting, landing in villages and towns dozens of kilometres beyond the border.

Each time a shell lands, hundreds of bomblets burst from it, creating a huge area ridden with dangerous shrapnel.

"The Israelis were using Vietnam-era stock with an  extraordinarily high dud rate. We’ve seen some ordnance that was dated March 1973" said Marc Galasco of  Human Rights Watch,. following a week-long tour through the south where "whole villages have been contaminated" by bombs.

"There are kids playing with them and getting hurt, killed."

When the dud bombs fail to explode and a  dangerously high percentage do fail, according to UN sources, they  leave the land strewn with potential death traps.

Dalya Farran of the UN Mine Action said that according to the most recent data, 185 cluster bomb strikes have been found so far by assessment teams who work with the stress of knowing that displaced people are seeking to return to their stricken villages.

"Not all of these, but a majority maybe, failed to go off," Farran said.

She said those intact bomblets are hard to find amid the rubble, and when they are spotted, "people assume that because of their small size that they are harmless".

The result, according to a military analyst with Human Rights Watch, Marc Garlasco, are "minefields in peoples’ homes, their gardens and everywhere."

 In a fact sheet issued earlier in the week, the UN urged parents to be especially vigilant for unexploded ordnance.

As part of a large public education campaign, the Lebanese army has dropped 100,000 leaflets and distributed 10,000 posters at checkpoints, and radio and television channels have aired warnings against the dangers of unexploded munitions.

The Israeli soldier died and three others were wounded by a landmine their army had planted to stop Hezbollah fighters. Lebanese security officials said the soldiers’ tank drove over the mine, but said it could not confirm that.