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Israeli shelling left carpet of bomblets

(Page 2 of 2)

The high ground from Yarmoh stretching toward the north, for example, puts the Israeli armored incursion route toward Marjayoun, in the lower fields just to the east, in the 3-mile range of Hizbullah's antitank rockets. It was hammered with clusters, analysts say, perhaps to suppress Hizbullah fire on the Israeli advance.

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But while Israel was able to determine locations of rocket launches, the response – when using cluster bombs – was not to pinpoint, but to saturate much wider areas.

"If it was a site for Katyushas, in our opinion it would explain the heavy presence of submunitions," says Andrew Gleeson, program manager for MAG, speaking in Nabatieh. "I haven't seen any indiscriminate [Israeli] fire. What I have seen are noncombat casualties as a result of discriminate fire."

That means crucial decisions about priorities, when demining teams are flagged down in villages, as people beg to have cluster bombs rendered safe.

"We're concerned about accident hot spots; human life is the priority," says Mr. Gleeson. "As I brief my guys: 'Every one you miss is a life, and it could be your child.' "

But clean-up is slow and painstaking. Some cluster bombs that did not arm on impact can be picked up by hand and made safe for later demolition. Others must be blown up in situ, one or two at a time. Use was widespread, in large numbers, and dud rates – due to soft landing areas, and Vietnam-era munitions used that date back to 1973 – far exceeded published figures of 14 percent.

Residents of this village were mostly grateful for the deminers, though blasts echoed throughout the day. "People of this neighborhood, stay in your homes!" announces an Iraqi deminer over a megaphone. "There will shortly be a cluster bomb explosion."

Though MAG works under the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre for south Lebanon, it depends on outside funding for plans to nearly triple its team strength to handle an initial "emergency" phase of three months. After that, come many more months when deminers go back to houses like Umm Mazan's to clear gardens and back yards. Eventually tobacco and olive farms will be cleared.

But that is not fast enough for Umm Mazen. Warning tape is wrapped around the front of the house and turns the garden into a no-go area. Cluster bombs, with their telltale loop of white ribbon, are scattered everywhere. In her anger amid the ruins the issue turns political – and against the Hizbullah guerrillas who have claimed victory over Israel.

"I am not Hizbullah! This has nothing to do with me!" she shouts at anyone who will listen. She is jumpy, and worries that a cat will set off another cluster bomb near their house; one already died that way.

Then she insults Hizbullah – which has promised to pay for and repair the damage to homes across Lebanon – and its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. "Why did [Hizbullah] start this war? For 30 years we worked to pay for this house. This is not my war. If Hizbullah wants this war, they can pay for it!"

"We are getting more teams, because this is not enough," says UN MACC spokeswoman Dalya Farran, speaking in the southern port city of Tyre. Several more teams arrived this week; five more clearance teams are due next Monday. She says Hizbullah units have immobilized some cluster bombs with a hardening foam to make them heavy and less appealing to children.

But no foam was on the bomblet that 10-year-old Marwa Al-Miri picked up several days ago, thinking it was already spent. She, her cousin, and a friend had gone to the edge of the village of Ait al-Shaab, on the border and the scene of intensive hand-to-hand combat.

"We went to see Israel from the house," Marwa explains, after returning from hospital with bandages covering shrapnel wounds on her legs. Her relatives are still there, with more serious injuries.

"We saw the Jews," says Marwa. "We were coming back through the house ... I picked up [the cluster bomb]. I threw it, and it exploded."