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Snow obscures minefields in south.

Summary: A blanket of snow has covered signs on roads in south Lebanon that warn of minefields and unexploded ordnance left behind by the Israeli army, creating a dangerous situation for residents.

BINT JBEIL: A blanket of snow has covered signs on roads in south Lebanon that warn of minefields and unexploded ordnance left behind by the Israeli army, creating a dangerous situation for residents. After last week's storm left much of the south covered in snow, southerners have ventured out to enjoy the frosty scene at touristic areas in the villages of Nabatieh, Bint Jbeil and Maroun al-Ras, near the border with Palestine.

Scouts and members of Hezbollah's health committee were spread across the region to warn visitors about likely locations of active minefields and unexploded munitions.

Vast minefields and countless cluster bombs laid by the Israeli army before it retreated from south Lebanon in 2000 and during the 2006 war still plague the south. The Lebanon Mine Action Center, part of the Lebanese Armed Forces, has cleared more than 1,600 minefields in south Lebanon to date. But hundreds more still require demining.

Many people avoided snowfields altogether, fearing that warning signs indicating the presence of unexploded munitions had been hidden beneath the blanket of snow.

Near the village of Yaroun in Bint Jbeil, Hussein Hammoud watched as his three children played near a marked minefield. Luckily, the snow snow has not obscured warning signs in this village.

"We know that these fields have bombs," he said. "Thank God the signs here were not covered with snow or people would have entered these white fields and a disaster could have happened."

Shepherds have been forced to move their flocks to new pastures as they are no longer able to determine which meadows are safe for grazing.

Areas around the border with Israel, frequented by sheepherders for centuries, have become particularly treacherous. The Blue Line, a set of markers which demarcates the border between the two countries, had practically disappeared in some places beneath a blanket of white.

"We have to avoid getting close to this area," said Ali Ahmad, a shepherd. "We do not know if there are bombs in this area or not.

"I'm afraid to go with my flock and have bombs explode."

The Lebanese Army has been monitoring people's movements in the south and has prevented people from accessing certain areas for their own safety.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has been working with the Army and municipal authorities to ensure the safety of citizens in the south. In recent days, UNIFIL forces helped clear roads to improve mobility and access to the region.

"We are just here to assist the Lebanese Army and the population to ensure that the situation in some of the areas goes back to normal through this period," said UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti.

Even in fair weather UNIFIL has been working to educate communities in the south about the dangers of mines and unexploded cluster munitions. Many units are spreading awareness about the issue by showing informative videos to students in the region.

According to the Lebanon Mine Action Center, 100,000 mines and other unexploded ordnance were strewn across south Lebanon by the Israeli Army during their occupation of the territory. When Israelis withdrew in 2000 after 12 years of occupation, they left approximately 500,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines across the south and the Western Bekaa. During the 2006 war, Israel scattered more than 4 million cluster munitions in Lebanon, affecting more than 1 million Lebanese people, primarily in the south.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Jan 14, 2015
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