The Red Cross said on Monday that cluster bombs have had a "horrific" impact on the residents of southern Lebanon.

 

Philip Spoerri, director of international law for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said countries needed urgently to address the issue of the bombs, which are still killing and injuring Lebanese civilians.

 

"It is simply unacceptable that [civilians] should return to homes and fields littered with explosive debris," Spoerri said.

 

"Cluster munitions are often the worst offenders given the massive numbers in which they are used, their area-wide effects and their well-known problems of accuracy and reliability."

 

Cluster bomblets - or submunitions - are packed into artillery shells or bombs dropped from aircraft.

 

A single cluster-bomb canister fired to destroy airfields or tanks and soldiers, typically scatters 200 to 600 of the bomblets over an area the size of a football field.

 

Israel dropped an estimated four million cluster bombs on Lebanon during fighting in July and August.

 

Not just Lebanon

 

Nato used cluster bombs against 
Serbia in 1999 

Spoerri noted that unexploded ordnance also make relief and reconstruction efforts much more difficult by contaminating farm lands and destroying local food production.

 

The International Red Cross' campaign concerns all "inaccurate and unreliable" cluster munitions, which also have killed innocent civilians during and after conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Laos.

 

The agency previously called for a ban on the weapons being used in cities and villages after the 1999 Nato air war against Serbia over the separatist province of Kosovo.

 

But its initiative to make countries responsible for cleaning up failed munitions has only been ratified by 20 governments, and not by Israel nor the United States.

 

In September, a measure by US Democrats to stop the Pentagon from using cluster bombs near civilian targets was defeated in the Senate.

 

The Red Cross said this month's meeting of countries that had signed the 1980 UN Convention on Conventional Weapons provided an opportunity to address the issue of the bombs.

 

The current treaty and its 2003 protocol on "explosive remnants of war" do not contain any specific restrictions on cluster munitions or requirements to reduce their failure rate.

 

A report published last week by the campaign group Handicap International, said that 98 per cent of cluster bomb victims were civilians, and a third of the casualties were children.