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Land Mine Menace in Lebanon

September 7, 2000

ZAWTAR SHARQIYEH, Lebanon (AP) _ Boyish curiosity drew Ammar Serhal to an abandoned Israeli position near his village, one of scores of bases and checkpoints hastily vacated as Israel ended its occupation of south Lebanon.

There, the 12-year-old discovered that though the shooting and shelling of the volatile occupation years was over, Lebanon had not seen the end of the heartache. On the very day Israel pulled out _ May 24 _ he stepped on an antipersonnel mine that chopped off his left leg above the knee and badly damaged his right leg.

International anti-mine campaigners said Thursday that a global treaty against the use of mines has made a difference in the first year and a half of its life, but problems remain. Countries that have ratified the treaty were to meet in Switzerland next week. Neither Israel nor Lebanon has signed the treaty.

According to police, nine people have died and 62 others injured in explosions of land mines and unexploded shells since the Israeli withdrawal from the border zone it held in Lebanon for 18 years as a buffer against cross-border guerrilla attack.

U.N. officers estimate at least 50,000 mines were planted, most by Israel and its Lebanese militia allies in their fight against elusive guerrillas. Guerrillas also planted mines.

Lebanese authorities had planned an awareness campaign to warn people of the danger of mines and unexploded shells. The Israelis’ withdrawal six weeks ahead of their self-declared deadline of July 7 lent urgency to the brochures, posters and warnings on radio and television, which began just as the first casualties started coming in. Thousands of people flooded south Lebanon after Israeli troops left to return home or to celebrate.

On May 24, Ammar ventured to the vacated hilltop Israeli position of Ali Taher, from where his Shiite Muslim village of Zawtar Sharqiyeh, 47 miles southeast of Beirut, had been targeted by gunfire and shelling almost every day during the Israeli occupation.

Ammar said the mine that maimed him did not kill his dreams.

``I think I will still be able to become a history teacher and draw paintings as I always wanted. But I don’t think I will be able to play soccer anymore,″ he said.

The Lebanese army and U.N. peacekeepers are clearing mines in the southern region which, counting the former Israeli-occupied zone and the front line, amounts to more than 10 percent of Lebanese territory. The effort is hindered by the difficult terrain, lack of maps and limited funding.

The government has said $8.6 million was needed to clear the south of land mines.

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