Mon, Nov 27, 2006 - Page 6 News List

UN accuses Israel of mine use

EXPERT INVESTIGATION Lebanon's south is already replete with mines left by Israeli soldiers in 2000, but a new report says more were planted during the war this summer

AP , BEIRUT

A UN agency said on Saturday that Israel planted mines in Lebanon during this summer's war between the Jewish state and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group -- the first time Israel has been accused of planting mines during the latest fighting.

A report by the UN Mine Action Coordination Center followed an investigation of a land mine explosion that wounded two European disposal experts and a Lebanese medic on Friday.

Later Saturday, the agency reported that a British demining expert who was trying to clear mines from the same area where Friday's explosion occurred also was injured in a separate land mine blast.

The explosions were caused by Israeli anti-personnel mines placed in fields newly laid during the fighting in July and August in south Lebanon, the center said.

"This is the first evidence we have that the Israeli forces laid new mines in south Lebanon in 2006," the UN agency said in a statement.

Israeli military officials said they weren't convinced the mine in Friday's explosion was Israeli. There was no immediate comment from Israel on Saturday's reported incident.

"It could be a Hezbollah land mine or a mine laid by another country, and might not even be from the latest conflict. Many armies have fought there over many years," the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the inquiry into the incident was still at an initial stage.

The officials, however, were evasive when asked whether Israel had laid new mines in Lebanon this summer.

Dalya Farran, a spokeswoman for the UN agency, said its experts found the land mines and were able to tell they were new Israeli anti-personnel mines based on their "type, shape and condition."

"The entire area where the mine fields were found had been cleared by agency experts between 2002 and 2004, so clearly these are new ones," Farran said.

Lebanon's south is riddled with land mines, laid by retreating Israeli soldiers who pulled out of the region in 2000, after an 18-year occupation. Hezbollah has also planted mines to ward off Israeli forces.

UN experts say up to 1 million cluster bombs dropped by Israeli aircraft during the July to August war against Hezbollah remain unexploded in south Lebanon, where they continue to threaten civilians.

At least 24 people have died in cluster bomb explosions since the war ended on Aug. 14.

Friday's blast seriously wounded ordnance disposal experts David Alderson of Britain and Damir Paradzik of Bosnia -- both of whom lost a foot -- and a Lebanese medic, as they tried to rescue a shepherd from an unmarked minefield in the village of Deir Mimas, two miles northwest of the Israeli border.

Farran said the shepherd had led a herd of goats into an unmarked minefield when one of the animals detonated a land mine. Alderson, Paradzik and the medic heard the explosion, and on trying to help the shepherd, inadvertently detonated a second land mine.

The shepherd was unscathed.

The three wounded men worked for ArmorGroup, a London-based company that has been clearing unexploded ordnance and cluster bombs in south Lebanon since September for the center.

Later Saturday, the UN agency said a British deminer tasked with trying to clear mines in the village where Friday's explosion occurred stepped on another land mine that detonated on Saturday morning.

The deminer, who worked for the British-based land mine clearing company BACTEC, had to have his foot amputated. The agency did not give the deminer's name.

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