U.S. says it has removed 50,000 unexploded bombs in Lebanon
The United States has helped remove more than 50,000 unexploded bombs in southern Lebanon since the end of the war last August with Israel, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.
The U.S. government's aid chief, Randall Tobias, said unexploded bombs remained a major problem in Lebanon where Israel dropped many thousands of cluster bombs. Many of those bombs are reported to be U.S.-made.
"The effort to remove the unexploded ordnance is moving along very aggressively and we're really making a lot of progress," said Tobias, who visited Lebanon last month to check on U.S. aid work there.
"At the time I was there, the estimate was that we had removed or assisted in the removal of about 50,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance," he added.
Other nations and the United Nations are also involved in the effort to remove unexploded ordnance in southern Lebanon.
The bombs pose a huge danger to displaced civilians trying to return to their villages after the 34-day war that pitted Hezbollah militants in Lebanon against Israel.
The State Department is investigating whether Israel violated U.S. rules in its use of U.S.-made rockets armed with cluster bombs in Lebanon. A State Department spokesman said the investigation was ongoing.
Israel has defended its right to use cluster bombs and says it only deploys them in accordance with international law.
Cluster bombs burst into bomblets and spread out near the ground. The United Nations has called for a freeze on the use of those bombs in or near populated areas.
The United States promised about e250 million in aid for Lebanon following the war and Tobias said about $100 million had been spent so far.
He said Washington was involved in building bridges and in trying to clean up after an oil spill during the war that marred parts of Lebanon's coastline and hit the fishing industry hard.
Immediately after the war, Hezbollah moved quickly to help those displaced by the war, handing out money to people in southern Lebanon whose homes were bombed.
U.S. officials voiced strong concern at the time that Hezbollah's quick response would give the militant group the upper hand in winning the hearts and minds of the local population and that embattled Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government would be perceived as being too slow to react.
Tobias said his agency was working hard to "build capacity" in Siniora's government and he felt U.S. assistance was helping with this goal.
"It [U.S. assistance] needs to be seen as an effort to help the legitimate government of Lebanon address the needs of the people," he said.
An international donors conference on Lebanon is expected to take place in Paris in January and Tobias urged other nations to follow through on about $900 million in aid pledged at a meeting in Stockholm in September.
"We really need to urge everyone to move as quickly as they can to move their words into action on the ground. There really is a significant need for help," he said.