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A call to abolish cluster bombs

Like land mines, they can plague affected areas for years, and should be banned.

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"Watch out! Watch out!" shouted my Lebanese colleague as I approached an unexploded cluster bomb near a soccer field in the southern Lebanese village of Soultaniye. As I tried to get a close-up photograph, he warned me to proceed cautiously so my shoes wouldn't inadvertently sprinkle dirt on the bomblet or otherwise disturb it, causing it to explode.

This close call came during a recent Amnesty International mission to assess the impact on civilians of this summer's war between Hizbullah and Israel. At the United Nation's Mine Action Coordination Center, I learned of Hussein Qaduh, a student who had been critically injured in a cluster-bomb explosion the previous evening.

One of his friends showed me where Hussein had been injured. More than a dozen unexploded bomblets still lay on the playing field and the path beside it; the adjacent wall and houses bore the signature pockmarks of exploded cluster bombs. Strewn across the spot where Hussein fell were stained pages from a notebook that villagers used to try to stem his bleeding. In the nearby village of Majdel Silim, villagers were eager, even insistent, to show me where bomblets had landed – on balconies, outside front doors, in trees and gardens, and even inside homes. A mother whose son had suffered cluster-bomb injuries pointed to the tree branches above us.

Tragically, the problem of unexploded ordnance, especially cluster bombs, has emerged as perhaps the conflict's most enduring legacy, one that will hamper southern Lebanon's recovery for years. The United Nations has identified more than 750 sites where cluster bombs were fired, with estimates indicating that at least 1 million unexploded cluster bomblets litter the villages, fields, gardens, and orchards of southern Lebanon.

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