Gaza faces crisis of hundreds of unexploded bombs, say experts

Unexploded munitions continue to kill civilians long after conflicts end

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The 11-day assault on Gaza may be over, but unexploded bombs are still killing those who survived the initial Israeli bombardment, humanitarian organisations and engineering teams say.

Nine-year-old Obeida Al Dahdouh died after a remnant of a bomb that was dropped on his neighbourhood of Zeytoun exploded on Thursday, June 10. The blast wounded his brother.

The types of bombs used in the last war differed in terms of their strength and ability

The International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent said such incidents showed the importance of raising awareness of the dangers of unexploded munitions. Gazan authorities say there are hundreds of unexploded bombs in the enclave.

"The explosive remnants in Gaza are one of the major concerns to the Red Cross after the latest war, as they pose a future risk to the lives of civilians in Gaza, and we seek to provide the necessary training for the explosives team that deals with these cases in the field," said Suhair Zaqout, ICRC representative for Gaza.

"The Red Cross gives priority to working to educate the public about the danger of these explosives, especially since some explosives are found in public places and streets and pose a danger to children."

Meanwhile, teams trained by the UN Mine Action Service are being sent to diffuse unexploded bombs before they cause more harm.

The UN group has been conducting training for the Ministry of Interior in Gaza, as well as funding its own removal squad in the Palestinian territories since 2009.

"Our work began from the first day of the last confrontation. We were moving under constant Israeli bombardment to rescue families whose homes have unexploded ordnance inside it," Muhammad Miqdad, an expert with the Remnants of War Handling Unit at Gaza's Hamas-run Interior Ministry, told The National.

The explosives engineering unit, which consists of 70 technical experts, has undertaken 1,200 missions since the start of the conflict to neutralise bombs and unexploded munitions in Gaza.

Mr Miqdad is the head of the Awareness and Guidance Department in Explosives Engineering in Gaza and has been working in the unit since 2006.

He says the weapons defused after the latest violence are different from those found during the previous major conflict, in the summer of 2014.

A missile was found on a main street in the east of Gaza city, 1,500 metres from the border with Israel. The weapon created a hole in the pavement when it landed, but failed to explode.

Metres away, more missiles destroyed buildings on the street.

"The types of bombs used in the last war differed in terms of their strength and ability, as [this time] they were trying to penetrate the ground to a distance of many metres, and destroy the infrastructure," Mr Miqdad said.

"We have faced many similar cases of unexploded rockets in the ground in separated areas in the Gaza Strip, and this is one of the most difficult tasks we have, as we do not have excavators or access to them."

Elsewhere, the explosives team came to the aid of the Muhareb family in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. A two-tonne missile hit the their building on May 19 but did not explode.

"The Israeli planes bombed our five-story house at 12.30am, without prior warning. We were all sleeping," said Waseem Muhareb, who lives on the second floor of the building with four family members.

“Suddenly we felt a tremor and the missile penetrated five floors until it settled on a bed in our neighbours' bedroom on the ground floor, without exploding.

“My wife, my brother and his three children were injured by the shrapnel of other small rockets [that hit] at the same moment.”

He said the family and their neighbours were surprised to find the unexploded missile. The explosives engineering team was called and the rocket was taken to a centre in Khan Younis to be neutralised with other collected weapons.

The group said it would announce when bombs would be defused days in advance so Gazans were ready for the potentially traumatising sounds of explosions.

Yahya Mohareb, a lawyer with Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, said the legal team documented all cases of people being wounded by unexploded munitions.

“Under international human rights law, Israel bears a responsibility towards the population of Gaza to protect them from the effects of these remnants” Mr Mohareb said.

Israel does not help neutralise unexploded bombs and has banned materials needed to do from entering Gaza since 2007, he said.

Mr Mohareb's team is still exploring what legal action they can take.

"There is legal prosecution by international lawyers, using the centre's documentation of these cases, to prosecute European companies that sell these weapons to Israel to claim the civil right to compensation for the damages caused to civilians during the war and after war times," he said.

It is not a new problem.

Between the 50-day 2014 conflict and the latest violence, unexploded bombs have killed or wounded 189 people – 80 per cent of them men and boys, the UN Mine Action Service said.

Inevitably, the presence of these bombs in public spaces has led to accidents and the deaths.

On June 2, Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, announced that two of its members, Osama Fadl Geneina and Ahmed Zaki Abu Hasira, were killed while dismantling unexploded munitions from the latest conflict.