The Killing Fields

24 Oct

Mines Advisory Group (MAG) Technical Field Manager Nick Guest inspecting a Cluster Bomb Unit in the southern village of Ouazaiyeh, Lebanon, in 2006. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, File)

Last Friday, as all eyes were focused on the assassination of Lebanon’s security chief Wissam al-Hassan, another explosion snuffed out a human life.

An Israeli-launched cluster munition detonated as Ibrahim, a man who had been married for less than a month, was working in a field. According to Al Akhbar, Ibrahim died in hospital seven agonizing hours later.

I’ll be following up on the circumstances surrounding Ibrahim’s death, but it appears he worked as a deminer. Israel, which often refers to itself as the ‘most moral army in the world’, dropped around one million cluster bombs over Lebanon in August 2006, mostly in the last few hours of the conflict when negotiations at the UN had made it apparent a ceasefire was imminent. Of those, up to four million submunitions (explosive bomblets within the cluster bomb) failed to detonate, remaining threats to civilians to this day.

According to the watchdog organization Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor (2011), by the end of 2010 there were at least 16,921 confirmed cluster munition casualties globally, though it believes the real figure may be as high as 54,000 because many incidents are never recorded. Injuries caused by cluster munitions, such as limb amputations, shrapnel wounds and blindness, have catastrophic and lifelong repercussions for victims. Cluster munitions impede the enjoyment of other rights, obstructing reconstruction efforts, hindering freedom of movement, preventing land from being used for livelihood activities, and locking affected communities in poverty for years after conflict ends.

Israel’s use of cluster munitions in Lebanon provided a catalyst for diplomatic action to ban the bombs. On 30 May 2008, a total of 107 states formally adopted the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The number of signatories has risen to 111, but some of the world’s major users and producers of the weapon, such as Israel, the USA, Pakistan, India, China and Russia, have still not joined.

Whatever weapons ‘experts’ say, there are no merits to cluster bombs. All they do is cause enormous human suffering, destruction and devastation. They are a form of collective punishment that go on killing and maiming years and even decades after a conflict ends. It’s about time they became a thing of the past. Don’t let Ibrahim’s death have been in vain. If you want to help clear landmines, cluster bombs and other explosive remnants of war, please think ofdonating to a mine clearance organisation. I am a longtime supporter of Mines Advisory Group, but any of the below are worthy of support.                                                                     

Beirut car bomb explosion caught on CCTV – video | World news | guardian.co.uk

23 Oct

 CCTV footage captures the moment a car bomb exploded in the Lebanese capital of Beirut during rush hour on Friday. The bomb killed security chief Major General Wissam al-Hassan and at least seven others, and injured scores more. The assassination sparked violence across the country

via Beirut car bomb explosion caught on CCTV – video | World news | guardian.co.uk.

Aside 21 Oct

Beirut: Hundreds try to storm PM’s office after funeral

Violence breaks out at the funeral of assassinated top intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan as protesters call for PM’s resignation. Channel 4 News reports on why his death has caused so much upheaval.

Violent protests follow Lebanese funeral (R)

Mourners had gathered in Beirut’s central Martyrs’ Square district [photo below] when hundreds of protestors broke away and attempted to storm the offices of Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail, writes Dalila Mahdawi from Beirut.

Soldiers fired bullets into the air and used tear gas in an effort to disperse the mob.

Security personnel quickly established a security cordon around the building as opposition leader and former prime minister Saad Hariri pleaded for calm, saying: “We are not advocates of violence and I call on all supporters to leave the streets immediately.”

Gerenal Wissam al-Hassan, who headed the controversial intelligence branch of the internal security forces, was killed along with seven others in a massive car bomb on Friday. He was a strong opponent of the Syrian government and was known for his close ties to the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005, and Hariri’s Future Movement party.

His death on Friday, which occurred as many parents were collecting their children from school, has largely been blamed on Syria. Damascus has rejected involvement, calling Hassan’s killing a “cowardly” act.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who many politicians are demanding resign over the killing, arrived to the funeral to a chorus of angry boos from the crowd of around 3,000 people.

Many protestors waved flags in Arabic, English and French calling for Mikati to step down. One read: “Get the Syrian out of the Serail [government],” in reference to the President Michel Sleiman and what many Lebanese see as Mikati’s close links to the Syrian regime.

The clashes appeared to have been contained before long, but there are reports that violence has spread across Lebanon, with protestors burning tyres and shooting guns in Tripoli and other areas of Beirut.

The man who knew too much?

Dubbed by one local newspaper as “the man who knew too much,” Hassan’s investigations helped the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the international court tasked with prosecuting Hariri’s assassins and which last year indicted four men with ties to Hezbollah and the Syrian government.

Earlier this summer, he had uncovered a plot by former information minister Michel Samaha to commit terrorist attacks against high-profile Lebanese figures.

“He was privy to a lot of highly confidential information that was dangerous to many people, so he had to be eliminated,” Karim Makdessi, an associate professor of politics at the American University of Beirut, told Channel 4 News.

He was targeted as he passed through a side street off Sassine Square, a busy area in Beirut’s Christian neighborhood of Achrafieh.

“We came today out of recognition for a man who died trying to protect all of the Lebanese people,” said Adil, 64. “We are embedded in a regional conflict in which the Lebanese people have no control over their destiny. It is the duty of all patriots to join hands and unite to prevent a civil war.”

Political upheaval

Mikati is part of the dominant March 8 coalition, formed of Hezbollah and its Christian and Muslim allies and backed by Syria and Iran. He tendered his resignation on Saturday but President Michel Sleiman rejected the move, saying his departure would lead the country into further crisis.

Professor Makdessi told Channel 4 News that the opposition March 14 bloc would now try to cash in on popular anger at Hassan’s assassination in order to reassert their weakened position in government.

March 14, a coalition of pro-Western Christian and Muslim parties led by the Future Movement, has played a muted role in Lebanese politics in recent years.

“Now is the time for mourning and for coming together to create a proper national security and political agenda for the whole country. It is not the time to point fingers or to assert parochial, sectarian agendas,” said Professor Makdissi.

‘I don’t feel safe’

But many see Hassan’s assassination as the beginning of a renewed campaign against anti-Syrian figures. Between 2005 and 2008, there were 11 assassinations or attempted assassinations in Lebanon. All of the targets were politicians or journalists vocally opposed to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

“I don’t feel safe at all now,” said Zeina, 30. “There are only going to be more political assassinations and all of us ordinary Lebanese are going to stuck in the middle of it all again.”

Simon Haddad, a Lebanese political analyst, said that while a number of other senior Lebanese officials were now possible assassination targets, it was more likely that the diplomatic repercussions of Hassan’s death would play out in Syria.

“His killing will have more implications for the Syrian crisis more than on Lebanon,” he told Channel 4 News. “The Arab countries will start seriously to support the rebels with weapons.”

Aside

Bombing Leaves Lebanon Shaken

21 Oct

Bombing Leaves Lebanon Shaken

The street of the bombing in Beirut that killed Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.The street of the bombing in Beirut that killed Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.

By Dalila Mahdawi

BEIRUT, Oct 21 2012 (IPS) - The assassination of Lebanon’s top security official on Friday not only ravaged a quiet Beirut neighbourhood but also shattered the precarious sense of security many Lebanese have been desperately clinging to in recent months.

Wissam al-Hassan, chief of Lebanon’s internal security services, was killed by a massive car bomb in which three others died and 100 were injured. He had just returned from Paris, to where he had moved his family amid concerns that he was being targeted for assassination.

“We suffered so much in the civil war and those memories are all coming back now,” said Anissa Bushrush, a resident of a nearby street. “People know each other in this neighbourhood but now I feel there is no safe place left. I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so terrified.”

The assassination occurred in a densely populated side street in Beirut’s predominantly Christian Achrafieh neighbourhood. Striking just before rush hour, it caused massive damage, tearing off balconies, smashing windows and sending a tower of black smoke high into the air.

Hassan was considered a controversial figure because of his close personal affiliation to Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former billionaire prime minister assassinated in 2005.

His killing is “a big loss for the security of Lebanon,” Walid Moubarak, director of the Institute for Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation at the Lebanese American University told IPS. Hassan had been responsible for uncovering significant security breaches in Lebanon, including Al-Qaeda, Israeli and Syrian operatives.

He was an investigator for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the international court tasked with prosecuting Hariri’s killers and which eventually blamed Syrian and Hizbullah agents. Earlier this year, Hassan had played a major role in the arrest of former information minister Michel Samaha for plotting terrorist attacks against high-profile Lebanese figures.

“He was a major obstacle for many groups inside and outside of Lebanon,” said Moubarak. “His death means they can now act in Lebanon much more freely. I hope Lebanon’s political leaders are conscientious enough to stay united.” Any divisions would only aid further violence, he said.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for Hassan’s assassination, the first in four years, but many Lebanese blame Syria. There were 11 assassinations or attempted assassinations between 2005 and 2008, all targeting outspoken critics of the Syrian regime. Tensions between the two countries have reached a critical point in recent months as political violence in Syria has begun to spill over the border.

“I’m divorced and I have a ten-year-old son to support. I’ve worked so hard to provide for us over the last few years and now I’ve lost everything,” wept Nancy Joseph Maineh, whose ground floor home was just yards from the site of the attack.

Carrying bags of her belongings away from her destroyed apartment, Maineh said she had “no idea” what the future would hold for her or the Lebanese people.

In a statement following the attack, Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi rejected his country’s involvement, condemning the killing as  “unjustifiable” and “cowardly.”

Analysts say the perpetrators had infiltrated Lebanon’s security services. “It’s very clear that there was circulation of information from inside our institutions to the people responsible for Hassan’s killing,” said Fadia Kiwan, professor of political science at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut. “Somebody saw his name on the manifest at the airport and informed his killers.”

Kiwan suggested Hassan’s demise heralded the beginning of another dark chapter of political violence in Lebanon. “I don’t wish to disseminate pessimism but we have to be realistic. These people are not playing games, they greet each other with death.”

In the wake of the killing, gunmen with scarves around their faces have taken to the streets across Lebanon, blocking roads with burning tires and opening fire at passing cars.

“It’s a predictable pattern that we often see in reaction to political events here,” Timor Goksel, former professor of conflict management at the American University of Beirut and senior advisor to UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL told IPS. “Some people take this as an opportunity to vent their anger about whatever they’re angry about in life. I don’t think it will escalate.”

Others, however, were less optimistic. One man was on his way back from Beirut airport early Saturday morning when his car was stopped at a makeshift checkpoint. After showing the men his identity papers and agreeing to a car search, Rabih Baaklini was driving off when four masked gunmen opened fire. His car was hit by 16 bullets.

“I’m not politically active, I don’t support any political party and I’ve never voted,” Baaklini said. “If I can get shot at, then anybody in Lebanon can get shot at. Life is so cheap here.”

Aside

Photos of massive explosion in Beirut’s Sassine Square

19 Oct

Massive car bomb in Beirut’s Sassine Square

A woman is helped by a Lebanese soldier after an explosion in Ashafriyeh district, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A woman is helped by a Lebanese soldier after an explosion in Ashafriyeh district, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
Lebanese army soldiers secure the area at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
Lebanese army soldiers secure the area at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A civil defence member helps a wounded man at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A civil defence member helps a wounded man at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A wounded woman is carried at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
A wounded woman is carried at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, central Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@YorgoElBittar)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@YorgoElBittar)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@DiAyDi)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image taken from twitter user@DiAyDi)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image from twitter user@svhoorn)
Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Image taken from twitter user@svhoorn)

A car burns at the site of an explosion in Ashrafieh, east Beirut, October 19, 2012. (Reuters)

(Reuters) – A huge car bomb exploded in a street in central Beirut during rush hour on Friday, killing at least two people and wounding 46, witnesses and security sources said.

It was not immediately clear if the explosion targeted any political figure in Lebanon’s divided community but it occurred at a time of heightened tension between Lebanese factions on opposite sides of the Syria conflict.

The bomb exploded in the street where the office of the anti-Assad Christian Phalange Party is located.

Ambulances rushed to the scene of the blast near Sassine Square in Ashafriyeh, a mostly Christian area, as smoke rose from the area. It occurred during rush hour, when many parents were picking up children from school.

The security source confirmed two dead. At least 46 people were wounded, another security source said.

Several cars were destroyed by the explosion and the front of a multi-storey building was badly damaged, with tangled wires and metal railings crashing to the ground.

Residents ran about in panic looking for relatives while others helped carry the wounded to ambulances.

Security forces blanketed the area.

The war in neighboring Syria, which has killed 30,000 people so far, has pitted mostly Sunni insurgents against President Bashar al-Assad, who is from the Alawite sect linked to Shi’ite Islam.

Tension between Sunnis and Shi’ites has been rumbling in Lebanon ever since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war but reignited after the Syria conflict erupted.

It reached its peak when former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a Sunni, was killed in 2005. Hariri supporters accused Syria and then Hezbollah of killing him – a charge they both deny. An international tribunal accused several Hezbollah members of involvement in the murder.

Hezbollah’s political opponents, who have for months accused it of aiding Assad’s forces – have warned that its involvement in Syria could ignite sectarian tension of the civil war.

The last bombing in Beirut was in 2008 when three people were killed in an explosion which damaged a U.S. diplomatic car.

However fighting had broken out this year between supporters and opponents of Assad in the northern city of Tripoli.

Story by REUTERS- Reporting by Mariam Karouny and Oliver Holmes; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Samia Nakhoul

Photos originally posted to http://rt.com/news/beirut-lebanon-explosion-police-797/ and http://www.rightnow.io/breaking-news/beirut-downtown_bn_1350647780442.html

Aside

Fatalities in Serbia

7 Aug

All eyes are on the Olympics at the moment, but beyond the madness of London, cluster munitions are still executing their dirty deed with gusto. In Serbia last week, two soldiers were killed during a clearance operation along the border with Kosovo. According to the Serbian defense ministry, the soldiers died after a cluster bomb exploded as they cleared a mine field near their barracks on Mount Kopaonik in southern Serbia. The cluster bomb was from NATO’s bombing campaign during the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict.

Serbian cluster bomb survivor and campaigner against the weapon, Branislav Kapetanovic, said the deaths highlighted how “absurd” it was that Serbia had still not signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a landmark treaty which bans the stockpiling, use, transfer and production of cluster munitions. It sets strict deadlines for land clearance and stockpile destruction and requires victims be given assistance.

In comments carried on the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) website, Branislav said: “This tragedy demands urgent action. It is absurd that after all these years Serbia still hasn’t joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions. We cannot allow new casualties from this weapon. Every unexploded cluster bomb can cause an accident, every cluster bomb stored can be used some day. Only by destroying them and banning them entirely [can] we prevent future suffering”.

Despite having around 15 square kilometres of cluster munition contaminated land, Serbia has not signed the Convention on Cluster Munition, and according to the CMC, maintains a stockpile of the weapon.

Figures of mine and explosive remnants of war casualties in Serbia are not available. The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor reports that in 2004, 1,360 casualties (24 killed; 1336 injured) were reported between 1992 and 2000 by Serbia and Montenegro.

In a Sudanese village, cluster munitions lay in wait

10 Jun

Image

Photo from the Independent newspaper website. Copyright not mine.

Sudanese villagers are requesting assistance to dispose of unexploded Russian-made cluster munitions, according to a recent article in the Independent newspaper. The cluster bombs, which are the first recorded use of the munitions by Khartoum in the Southern Kordofan conflict, were found by the residents of the Nuba Mountain village of Angolo.

Neither Sudan nor South Sudan have signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions banning the use, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Nevertheless, as the article remarks, the use of such indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas is largely viewed as a crime against international law. Khartoum’s use of such a catastrophically indiscriminate and ineffective weapon in a civilian area is very worrying and it is to be hoped that local or international assistance is provided as soon as possible to remove the weapons.

Below is a passage from the article explaining the high failure rate of the weapon:

“The Angolo bomb is a Soviet-made RBK-500 cluster weapon, filled with dozens of spherical A0-2.5RTM submunitions, designed to burst in half on impact and scatter shards of shrapnel and ball-bearings over a wide area.

Each hemisphere of the bomblet is designed to achieve a “kill radius” of 20 metres, yet there were no reported casualties in the attack or after, and none of the submunitions appear to have exploded.

Perhaps the relative obsolescence of the bomb led to its malfunction. The serial numbers visible on the undeployed submunitions indicate that they were manufactured in Russia’s Degtiarev plant in 1984.

Human Rights Watch observed a high failure rate for these submunitions in Russia’s 2006 conflict with Georgia, though there is no known precedent for such a complete failure of this type of bomb in an airstrike.”

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