Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office on landmines in South Lebanon (29 September
Thank you for your letters of 26 and 27 July
asking about the landmine situation in South Lebanon and the Occupied
Territories. I will take each of your questions in turn, beginning
with South Lebanon.
Lebanon was wracked by civil war from 1975 to
1990. The so-called green lines between rival factions (whether
in Beirut or rural areas such as the Chouf Mountains) were heavily
mined. Syrian forces swept through large parts of the country
more than once. Israel twice invaded Southern Lebanon (in 1978
and 1982) reaching the outskirts of Beirut on the latter occasion.
Israeli forces then occupied much of the South and have recently
conducted a phased withdrawal. They vacated the Jezzine area last
year and withdrew from the remainder of their so-called security
zone in May 2000.
For these reasons, as FCO Consular travel advice
makes clear, unexploded ordnance remains a problem throughout
Lebanon. Deaths and injuries continue, with victims falling foul
of mines, shells, unexploded Israeli cluster bombs or even booby
trapped toys, allegedly dropped by the Israeli airforce near Lebanese
villages adjacent to the so-called security zone. In February
1999, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) estimated that only 235
of the identified 743 minefields in Lebanon outside the Israeli
occupied zone had been fully cleared.
The majority of landmines found in southern
Lebanon are anti-personnel mines. However booby traps, roadside
bombs and anti-tank mines also present a real threat. In addition
to landmines, thousands of items of unexploded ordnance (UXO)
litter southern Lebanon and are of equal concern.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon
(UNIFIL) believes that the majority of the mines found were laid
by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) during the occupation. These
are mostly located along the Lebanon/Israel border and around
military sites formerly occupied by the IDF.
The Israelis, Hizbollah and other Lebanese resistance
groups are all providing records and co-operating in revealing
the locations of their mines and booby trapped devices. However,
the UN believes some of these records may be inaccurate or are
There have been a number of initiatives to deal
with the clearance of landmines in South Lebanon. Ukrainian engineers
are de-mining the border area, giving priority according to UNIFIL's
operational needs. Italian experts are providing equipment to
the LAF with the aim of developing their capacity to carry on
work themselves in the longer term. The UK Government's contribution
is coming via DFID, which is in the process of providing US$500,000
to the United Nations Mine Action Service for their trust fund
for assistance in mine action. This includes US$120,000 for global
mines awareness initiatives and US$380,000 for other immediate
requirements including setting up a mine action co-ordination
cell within UNIFIL.
In the longer term, however, the Israeli information
needs to be verified and the true nature of the problem in South
Lebanon clarified. Canada, Germany and possibly Norway will be
jointly funding a survey of the UNIFIL area of deployment under
the co-ordination of the UN. The survey will commence in October
with the aim of clarifying the extent and nature of the problem
and verifying the IDF information. The survey is expected to take
between three and six months and will provide a clearer picture
of the landmine contamination.
Until we know the results of the survey, it
will not be clear how long mine clearance will take. The UN believe
the Lebanese Army have the capacity to carry out the de-mining
operations, but for various reasons they may be unable to deploy
de-mining personnel to the south for some time.
Reports on injuries and deaths vary according
to the source. The International Committee of the Red Cross quote
10 deaths and 22 injuries from the end of May to 31 July. UNIFIL
estimates for late May to mid August are nine deaths and about
As with South Lebanon, landmines in the Occupied
Territories date not only from the Israeli occupation, but also
from earlier conflicts. There are numerous minefields throughout
the Occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan, although there is
no precise information about the exact location, numbers and types
of mines. Some of these minefields originate from the period of
the British Mandate, some were laid by Syria, Jordan or Egypt
prior to 1967. There is information to suggest that Israel has
planted landmines since 1967.
Many of the minefields are not marked or fenced,
and the situation is worsened by rain and natural earth movements
causing mines and UXO to slide into areas believed to be safe.
The issue of mines and UXO in the Occupied Territories
has so far not been addressed in any of the agreements negotiated
between Israel and the Palestinian authority.