QANA, Lebanon: When Alia, 10, from the South Lebanese town of Qana, insisted I take a look at her coloring book, I never expected what I would see.
The story of a group of children going for a picnic seemed ordinary at first. But five or six pages into it the message comes through loud and clear: the campers are warned not against poisonous mushrooms or wild animals, but against unexploded cluster munitions.
These are bombs, Alia explains, pointing at the illustrations under the Arabic text. Her voice takes on a serious tone. From Israel … you know?
From last summer? I ask, and Alia nods in agreement, while grappling with her 9-month old brother who wants the little blue Unicef book.
A deadly legacy of the 2006 July War between Israel and Hezbollah, these bomblets constitute unexploded ordnance (UXO) left behind after a strike.
They were fired by Israeli artillery guns, contained in shells devised to split open in flight. With large quantities failing to explode at the impact, the bomblets are now scattered in streets, fields and even people’s homes.
UXOs are a major threat to civilians, especially children playing in these areas, as the slightest movement can explode them, much like landmines.
Qana has been the site of a heavy death toll in the Lebanese-Israeli conflict twice, in 1996 and again in 2006.
On April 18, 1996, in what came to be known as Operation Grapes of Wrath, Israel Defense Forces hit a Unifil (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) compound in the village, killing 106 civilians and injuring around 116 others who had taken refuge there from the fighting, also leaving four Unifil soldiers seriously injured.
Exactly one year ago today, on July 30, 2006, an apartment building in Qana was the target of Israeli air strikes. The Lebanese Red Cross originally announced that at least 56 people were killed, 32 of which were children. Human Rights Watch later corrected the figures, stating that at least 22 people escaped the basement, and 28 were confirmed dead, 16 of which were children, with 13 more still missing.
Scenes of the massacres are still vivid for the residents of the small South Lebanese town, which in the past was a draw for religious tourism, since many believed it was the site where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into red wine. Alia s mother recalls the 2006 tragedy in detail: There used to be a small house there, with about 50 people living in it, including little children, she told Daily News Egypt, also pointing to grim picture of the scene of the bombing. “Some of their heads were cut off. I saw it. The whole world has never seen such a thing.
Books like Alia s are part of Unicef’s effort to raise awareness among children in South Lebanon about the hazards of unexploded cluster bombs, how to recognize them and what to do in case they come across them.
According to the UN Mine Action Coordination Center for South Lebanon an estimated 1 million unexploded munitions infest the area and it may take up to a year to clear all of them. As of the end of January, more than 200 people had been injured or killed by cluster bomb explosions since the ceasefire, including 70 children and youths under 18 years old, seven of whom died.