Monday, October 30, 2006

UN vows answers on whether Israel used uranium munitions during summer war

UN vows answers on whether Israel used uranium munitions during summer war
Samples from 2 bomb craters in south show high radioactivity

BEIRUT: The United Nations, which has been studying ecological damage in Lebanon caused by Israel's summer offensive, said Saturday that it would soon be able to say whether uranium-based munitions were used, as reported by a British newspaper. The Independent newspaper said scientists studying samples of soil after Israeli bombing in Lebanon have shown high radiation levels, suggesting that uranium-based munitions were used.It said samples taken from two bomb craters in Khiam and Al-Tiri have been sent for further analysis to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire, southern England, for mass spectrometry. "If there is uranium we will find it," said Boutros Harb, director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) for Asia and the Middle East, based in Bahrain.

The samples thrown up by Israeli bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures," Chris Busby, the British scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, was quoted as saying. Britain's Defense Ministry has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples, the report added.In his initial report, Busby said there were two possible reasons for the contamination."The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or experimental weapon based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash," it said. "The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium," Busby was quoted as saying.

A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium, the newspaper said. An Israeli Army spokesman denied Saturday the use of illegal munitions. "All the arms and ammunition that we use are legal and conform to international laws," he told AFP. "The analysis of samples taken by our munitions experts is being done in a laboratory at Spitz in Switzerland. I am not able today to neither confirm nor rule out the presence of uranium," Harb told AFP by telephone from Bahrain. "The results should be sent to us by mid-November."

Around 20 UNEP experts spent two weeks, with Lebanese environmentalists, from the beginning of October evaluating the impact on the environment of the July 12 to August 14 war, Harb said. The experts tested air, water and soil samples at some 75 heavily bombarded sites in southern Lebanon and the mainly suburbs of southern Beirut, Harb added. Their report will be made public mid-December in Beirut. At least 1,140 civilians - 30 percent of them children under 12 - have been killed along with 43 Lebanese Army and police troops in the offensive, the state Higher Relief Commission said. Many have unexplained wounds and burns that are still being studied. - Agencies

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