Select Committee on Foreign Affairs First Special Report


Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on landmines in South Lebanon (29 September 2000)

  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 incomplete.


  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 50 injured.


  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.

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