With bulky armored vests and protective helmets, the hijab-clad female cluster bomb disposal team of south Lebanon is almost undistinguishable from their fellow male coworkers.
Formerly teachers, nurses and housewives, this unique group of women are part of the only female team in Lebanon recruited by de-mining NGO Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) to clear remnants of mines and cluster bombs.
"When I heard they were recruiting I applied straight away," Lamis Zein, a 33-year-old divorcee and mother-of-two told the British Guardian newspaper.
"At the beginning men were surprised to see us in the field, wearing the same protective equipment as men, doing demolitions of bombs like men. But we work together well as a team of women. We share things that we wouldn't with male colleagues. We are good at what we do and we are showing that women can do any kind of job," she noted.
Speaking about the painstaking task of combing every inch of land for unexploded ordnance left behind after the Second Lebanon War, Zein said: "Women are more patient than men. That is why we are good at this job. We work more slowly – and maybe we are a little more afraid than men."
However, be it male or female, the dangers that come with the job are the same. A day before the interview with the Guardian, one of the other de-mining team members was injured in an explosion, serving as a stark reminder of the risks involved. For this reason precisely, all searchers have their blood type embroidered on their vests.
98% of cluster bomb casualties are civilians (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
Zein's fellow teammate, Abeer Asaad, told the Guardian about her family's concerns. "My kids always worry about me, especially yesterday when they heard about the accident," the mother-of-five said, adding, "They asked me to quit my job yesterday, they were so scared.
Abeer recalled how she landed the hazardous job: "I was unemployed when I heard that NPA was recruiting women for a de-mining team and I applied without telling anyone, not even my husband.
"When he found out he didn't want me to do it. I was scared too. Just hearing the word 'bomb' would make you scared. But when I began to work it was different, especially when you are careful all the time and follow the rules. You need to be alert and focused when you are in the field, and you must check the ground slowly," she said.
"We feel like we are doing something for Lebanon," concluded Zein. "We are making it safe for children to play in the fields and we are letting farmers go back into their fields to earn money for their families."
Israel's use of cluster bombs during the Second Lebanon War was harshly condemned by the international community, the United Nations calling it a "flagrant violation of international law". According to UN data, 98% of cluster bomb casualties are civilians.