Friday, September 01, 2006

Unexploded Ordinances In South Lebanon

On August 23, we returned to South Lebanon to document unexploded ordinances in civilian areas. We had our daily routine breakfast of coffees and knefes. Andrew, Rema, and I bid farewell to our delightful friend Alex and we got on the broken highway south. We would be going south to interview doctors, interview victims of cluster bomb explosions, and visit villages where unexploded bombs were still present.

According to a report from Ana Nogueira for the US nationally syndicated news program Democracy Now, Israel dropped thousands of cluster bombs on at least one hundred and seventy villages in south Lebanon during the 34-day war against Hezbollah. Small bomblets have created an incredibly dangerous situation for people returning to their villages. It is now reported that up to 4 million bomblets were left in Southern Lebanon. According to a story released by Reuters, Israel dropped 92 percent of their cluster bombs in the last 72 hours before the ceasefire. While some bombs are made to destroy tanks (which would not affect Hezbollah), others are specifically designed to kill or maim humans. Israel has been condemned by officials within the UN and by Human Rights Watch for its use of cluster bombs in civilian neighborhoods. Israel blamed Hezbollah for firing missiles from civilian neighborhoods, and used this as an excuse for dropping the cluster bombs right before accepting UN resolution 1701. The large amount of cluster bombs in the south has endangered the local population and left us concerned about our safety as we continued south.

Some of the wrecked bridges had been removed from the highway heading south, but the road was still treacherous. The drive took hours as was to be expected with the ravaged road. We pulled into a hospital in Tyre and went to see if any patients staying there were victims of the unexploded bombs. The doctor said that there have been many patients that had visited the hospital and that were transferred to hospitals in Beirut. He agreed to an interview and described the horror created by the leftover bombs. According to reports, unexploded bombs have killed at least 14 people and injured another 48. He claimed to have patients suffering from injuries from cluster bombs almost everyday after the ceasefire.

We left the hospital and decided to visit a parking lot where two destroyed ambulances were parked. We had heard about the ambulances being bombed by Israeli fighters during the war and wanted to see the ambulances first hand. I later saw that some blogs on the internet questioned whether the bombing of the ambulances had taken place. We arrived to look at the evidence firsthand. In the middle of the Red Cross symbol on one ambulance, there was a hole created by a bomb that had penetrated the vehicle and exploded inside. On the other ambulance, the cross was barely missed, but the vehicle was still destroyed. It would be hard to deny that these vehicles were targeted and hit by bombs. We documented the vehicles and left in disgust.

We moved on to the next hospital. There were three victims of cluster bomb explosions staying in the hospital, two young boys and a little girl. All had stumbled upon the bombs unexpectedly. One little boy, named Hassan Tahin, had his stomach ripped open from the bomblet. He moaned in agony as we interviewed him. He lifted his shirt and showed us the bandages covering his wounds.

I asked how he had been injured. Hassan replied, “I was staying with my grandfather and went walking. I didn’t see anything.”

The little girl was very shy in her short interview. Her wounds were less visible and she did not want to show us her injuries. Another young boy was sixteen years old and injured by a cluster bomb. The bomb explosion broke his leg.

We left the hospital and continued back through the annihilated village of Bint Jbeil to village of Yarnoun. Families, who were eager to show us their ruined homes, greeted us. An old lady showed us a car that now rested on the roof of her home. A missile had blasted the vehicle propelling into the air and onto her roof. The front of her home was also damaged. She was now afraid to enter her home, because of the fear that it might collapse. The old lady then showed us where several people had died in the attacks.

Each person in the village acted as a strange tour guide to the wrecked village. Many of the families had left after two weeks of the bombings and came back to see their houses destroyed. An old man with a wrinkled, weathered face showed us into his home. He warned us to careful. A small cluster bomb was still inside his kitchen door. We slowly stumbled through the rubble not knowing whether other bombs were left unexploded on the inside. A group of young village boys laughed at our hesitation and fear. They were used to this. This was their hometown. We saw were the cluster bomb had pierced the roof and landed inside his home. We learned that UN soldiers had cleared out some of the bombs, but many had been missed. The UN has estimated that it will take a year to 15 months to clear all of the unexploded bombs from the villages.

Outside the group of laughing boys showed us larger unexploded bombs throughout the village. Rocks and spray paint marked surrounded the bombs. This was a way to caution villagers to not step where bombs are. As I was shooting one of the bombs, an older man grabbed my attention and asked to be filmed. He pointed to the Israeli border and ranted about the United States and Israel. People are extremely upset. According to Aljazeera, Israel made agreements with the U.S. in return for being sold the cluster bombs that were now scattered throughout villages like Yanoun and other places throughout South Lebanon. On a couple of occasions, I must admit that I said that I was Canadian to avoid a long explanation.

After shooting for over an hour in Yanoun, we were invited by a family to have tea, but decided it would be best to continue back to Beirut before too late. We drove cautiously back up the war torn highway to our quaint little hostel in Beirut.


WiredGuy said...

Thanks for your great descriptions of your travels through Lebanon... I am reading intently and am extremely satisfied to have unfiltered news coming out of the area.

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