2 hours, 43 minutes ago
TYRE, Lebanon - Hamid Asan Hasan dropped his wallet, and as he stooped to pick it up he spotted the small round object. Curious, he picked that up too. It exploded and blew off part of his hand.
The Lebanese army passed out leaflets Thursday to warn residents of south Lebanon to beware of just such weapons. It was too late for Hasan, who was injured Sunday, one day before the cease-fire took hold to end fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.
"The place is full of unexploded ordnance, shells and mortars," said Chris Clark, program manager for the U.N. Mine Action Coordination center in Tyre.
But that's not the biggest problem, he said.
The most dangerous of the ordnance littering south Lebanon after 34 days of Israeli bombardment are bomblets spewed from cluster bombs packed into Israeli artillery shells, Clark explained.
"Our primary problem is the cluster bombs," he said. The bomblets they spit out are small round explosives that Clark likened to a small grenade. A cluster bomb can be delivered either by air or by artillery shells. In this war, he said, Israel delivered them by shells that exploded before hitting the ground. That sprayed small bomblets over an area half the size of a football field.
Normally, cluster bombs are used against tanks and explode on impact with steel. But in this conflict, Clark said, the shells were fired into areas, both urban and rural, where Israel thought Hezbollah guerrillas might be hiding.
Because the targets were not tanks, many bomblets fell on the ground or asphalt pavement and did not explode.
"This leaves them in an angry state, a very volatile state," said Clark. The bomblets are barely the size of a flashlight battery.
Southern Lebanon has a long history of war and deadly explosives. Before the latest fighting began July 12 with the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas, mine clearers had removed most of the ordnance from past conflicts below the Litani River, 18 miles north of the border. The exception was land mines that run the length of Lebanon's border with Israel. They were planted by Israel and U.N. mine clearers have maps with their locations.
Hasan said he was not sure what he picked up not far from his home in Haris, 12 miles from the southern port city of Tyre. Lying in his bed at Jamal Amal Hospital in Tyre, Hasan said he planned to return home but fears a fresh encounter with explosives.
In the village of Tibnin, near the border town of Bint Jbail — scene of some of the most brutal ground combat — the main street is covered with bomblets.
"They are all over. Anybody on the street is in danger," said Roland Huguenin, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross. "A car almost drove over one, and I was yelling 'stop, stop.' You will kill us both."
Outside the hospital in Tibnin, U.N. mine clearing teams collected dozens of bomblets that they later exploded. Clark said Tibnin was especially dangerous. He estimated that 80 percent of all the bomblets that fell there had not exploded.
The tens of thousands of refugees returning to their homes in the south are vulnerable. Often, the bomblets are buried in the rubble of ruined villages.
"You might just be moving a piece of debris and you won't realize what it is and it can kill you," Clark said.
In Taibeh, also near the border with Israel, residents were living in fear.
Manifa Haider, 35, returned after fleeing to Syria. In an eggplant patch at her hilltop home in Taibeh are two 3-foot-wide holes. Some kind of Israeli projectile is just visible in each.
"I'm scared. I'm scared to go in my garden, but we have to eat. We have no water, no supermarket, everything is gone," she said. "We keep our children in the house. They can't play outside anymore. You don't know what they (unexploded ordnance) look like, toys, some look like pencils or pens."
Clark said no explosive devices are disguised as toys. "Everything is straight ordnance," he said.
In Marjayoun, Andy Gleeson, a spokesman and engineer with the British-based Mines Advisory Group, said the bomblets make victims of the unaware.
"The danger lies in naivete and in tampering. It lies in people picking items up and moving them around, and that's not safe."
Associated Press correspondent Lauren Frayer contributed to this report from Marjayoun, Lebanon.