In Scramble to Evade Israeli Bombs, the Living Leave the Dead Behind
NY Times July 21, 2006
TYRE, Lebanon, July 20 — Carpenters are running out of wood for coffins. Bodies are stacked three or four high in a truck at the local hospital morgue. The stench is spreading in the rubble.
The morbid reality of Israel’s bombing campaign of the south is reaching almost every corner of this city. Just a few miles from the Rest House hotel, where the United Nations was evacuating civilians on Thursday, wild dogs gnawed at the charred remains of a family bombed as they were trying to escape the village of Hosh, officials said.
Officials at the Tyre Government Hospital inside a local Palestinian refugee camp said they counted the bodies of 50 children among the 115 in the refrigerated truck in the morgue, though their count could not be independently confirmed.
Abdelmuhsin al-Husseini, Tyre’s mayor, announced on Thursday that any bodies not claimed in the next two days by next of kin would be buried temporarily in a mass grave near the morgue until they could receive a proper burial once the fighting ends.
“I am asking the families, if they can come here, to claim the bodies,” said Mr. Husseini, whose bloodshot eyes hinted at his mad scramble to secure food rations and bring some order to the city. “Otherwise, we have no choice but to bury them in mass graves.”
With the roads and bridges to many surrounding villages bombed out, few families have come to the hospital to claim their dead.
Even if they could make the journey, they would fear being hit by airstrikes along the way, Mr. Husseini said. Emergency workers have been unwilling to brave the risk of recovering many bodies left along the road, leaving them to rot. For those relatives who reach the morgue, conducting a proper burial is impossible while the bombing continues. Many have opted to leave the bodies at the morgue until the conflict ends.
The morgue has had to order more than 100 coffins with special handles to make it easier to remove them from the ground to be reburied later. “What? He wants a hundred?” a local carpenter said, half shocked, half perplexed. “Where the hell am I going to get enough wood to build that many coffins?”
At the hospital, members of the medical staff now find themselves dealing with the dead more than saving the living.
“This hospital is working like a morgue more than a hospital,” said Hala Hijazi, a volunteer whose mother is an anesthesiologist at the hospital. Lately, Ms. Hijazi said, she has begun to recognize some of the faces arriving here as the scale of the Israeli bombings has continued to widen. “A lot of the people are from Tyre, and we know some of them,” she said of the bodies.
A pall overtook Tyre on Thursday, as United Nations peacekeepers loaded more than 600 United Nations employees, foreigners and Lebanese onto a ferry to Cyprus, then promptly packed up their makeshift evacuation center at the Rest House and left for their base in the town of Naqura. Hundreds descended on the hotel on Wednesday, desperate to board the ferry. Despite fears that many would be left behind, almost all who sought refuge were able to board the ship Thursday.
But as the last United Nations peacekeepers left town on Thursday, those who remained braced for an even heavier bombardment.
For Ali and Ahmad al-Ghanam, brothers who have taken shelter in a home just a few blocks from the morgue, the refrigerated truck of dead bodies is a vivid reminder of the attack that killed 23 members of their family.
When Israeli loudspeakers warned villagers to evacuate the village of Marwaheen last Saturday, the families packed their belongings and headed for safety. More than 23 of them piled into a pickup and drove toward Tyre, with the brothers trailing behind. Another group set off for a nearby United Nations observation post, but were promptly turned away.
As the pickup raced to Tyre, Ali al-Ghanam said, Israeli boats shelled their convoy, hitting the car and injuring the women and children in the back. But within minutes an Israeli helicopter approached the car, firing a missile that blew the truck to pieces as the passengers struggled to jump out, he said.
His brother Mohammad, his wife and their six children, were killed instantly along with several of their relatives. The only survivor in the car was the brothers’ 4-year-old niece, who survived with severe burns to much of her body.
“The dead stayed in the sun for hours until anyone could come and collect them,” Mr. Ghanam said. “The Israelis can’t understand that we are people, too. Should they wonder why so many of us support the resistance?” he said, speaking of Hezbollah.
The 23 bodies now lie in the truck, waiting to be buried. Mr. Ghanam said it would be impossible for them to be buried in their village while the bombing continued. Holding a funeral is impossible, but even digging a grave could attract fire, he said, assuming the remaining family were able to return to the village. The brothers walked to the hospital on Thursday to sign documents allowing the hospital to bury the bodies in a mass grave.
The Homecoming: Plucked to Safety From Lebanon, American Evacuees Return and Lament the Destruction
NY Times | July 21, 2006
LINTHICUM, Md., July 20 — A cheering planeload of Americans evacuated from Lebanon arrived here Thursday morning, giving thanks for their escape and pleading for an end to the bombing there.
Haggard and wearing clothes they had slept in, but otherwise healthy and in good spirits, many of the roughly 150 evacuees exulted and applauded when the government-chartered DC-10 touched down at Baltimore/Washington International Airport.
Some wept tears of joy; others, tears of sadness. Some had worried that they and their loved ones would never make it out of Lebanon alive, while others feared for the safety of kin and friends left behind.
“We lived through horror; I’ve seen little kids burned alive,” said Tom Charara, 50, an aerospace engineer from Long Beach, Calif., who with his wife, Rola, and two young children went to visit ailing relatives in Beirut. “A country is being destroyed, people are being killed, and the whole world is watching.”
...Thursday’s homecoming was bittersweet for many evacuees.David Merhige, a musician from the East Village in New York, had gone to Lebanon for a cousin’s wedding, which ended up being moved north, then disrupted, because of bombing. “My trip started out amazing and beautiful, and it turned into a terrible atrocity,” he said.
Mr. Merhige, 39, recalled sitting in the relative safety of the United States Embassy in Beirut on Wednesday, with fighter planes and gunboats nearby, shaking as he thought of family members who remained “I had pretty much uncontrollable tears,” he said. “I don’t cry that often, but I did when I thought of the craziness I left. It’s just going to be a disaster over there.”
Several evacuees called on Israel to stop bombing Lebanon.Stephen McInerney, a student completing a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies at the American University in Beirut, said he had felt no danger to himself, but expressed horror at seeing so much of the city in flames and ruins.
“I felt more sadness in the past week than I ever have before in my entire life,” Mr. McInerney said. “The atrocities going on in Lebanon are out of control and are unjustifiable and unwarranted”...
A view of devastation Tour of South Beirut neighborhood unveils destruction wrought as part of Israeli attacks on Hezbollah
Newsday | July 21, 2006
HARET HREIK, Lebanon -- The smell of dust and rubble wafts half a mile away. It is a mixture of pulverized concrete, electrical wiring and asbestos. It burns the eyes and throat.
But the smell is only the first sign that something is terribly wrong. It comes before one sees the devastation.
Last week, this was the most densely populated neighborhood in south Beirut, a crowded swath of apartment buildings known as the dahiya, or the suburbs. It is the Shia Muslim heartland, and the place from which Hezbollah draws its most loyal support.
Today, Haret Hreik has been pulverized, as if visited by a cataclysmic earthquake. Everywhere there are mountains of rubble, great mounds of concrete blocks, twisted sheets of corrugated metal and spaghetti-shaped iron bars.
"You have to follow me," shouted Hussein Naboulsi, a longtime spokesman for Hezbollah. "Don't just go any way you want. Follow me!"
Naboulsi was preparing to lead a group of about 100 journalists through Haret Hreik yesterday afternoon. He did not want any stragglers.
"If I tell you to evacuate, you must do it," he shouted again, trying to outdo the cackle of microphones, tape recorders and cameras. "Now we must be quick."
Approaching the intersection of Hadi Nasrallah Boulevard and Ghobeiry Square, everything is coated with a chalky gray dust.
Then the scope of devastation becomes clearer. Dozens of buildings have been reduced to chunks of concrete. Many others had their sides sheared off, exposing their insides. Streets are piled with giant pieces of concrete, broken glass, and wooden beams from floors and ceilings. Wires are hanging everywhere.
On one street, a black, red and yellow flag still stretches between two buildings, framing a two-story pile of ruined homes. The German flag was likely hung a few weeks ago, when the dahiya - along with the rest of Lebanon - was obsessed with soccer's World Cup. Whole buildings were collapsed, their top stories pancaked, telescoping down into each other.
A cameraman trips over a shirt, strangely untouched in the middle of the street. A Spanish TV anchor, doing a standup, trips backward over a mattress.
Stray cats pick through the ruins. A beauty salon with its walls blasted off lies exposed, its mirrors fractured. "I don't recognize this area," said a Lebanese journalist, shaking his head. "It's beyond recognition. Beyond recognition." Amid the rubble, there are signs of the life that existed before July 12, when Israel and Hezbollah went to war: a red plastic rocking horse, strollers, tricycles, a stuffed brown teddy bear. There are dozens of burned photo albums, piles of CDs and books.
A wedding photo from the 1970s lies on the ground, blown out of its frame. It's surrounded by slippers, pillows, cinder blocks and radiators. In one corner, there's an English textbook on diabetes. Hezbollah members roam the deserted streets on mopeds, weaving around the rubble. They're unshaven and have circles under their eyes.
Then, suddenly, a man emerges from the dark lobby of a building. He attracts the attention of the cameras. "Let the entire Western world look and see the democracy of Israel and America," he screamed, as cameras rolled and shutters clicked. "Let the world see and judge who is the terrorist, us or them? We're protecting our homes. They're attacking innocent people."
The man, disheveled and sweaty, was wearing a torn white T-shirt. Asked for his name, he answered, "Just say a Lebanese citizen." Later, he gave a first name: Mohammed. "My house is here," he shouted, pointing to a building with its top floors flattened. "It was destroyed like everyone else's."
Is Hizbullah here? Only children here.' City mourns air strike dead
Israeli attacks on Lebanon port hit canal near Palestinian refugee camp
The Guardian (UK) | July 18, 2006
TYRE--Twelve-year-old Nour lay heavily bandaged and fighting for her life in a hospital in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre. She is one of many children killed and injured in Israeli air strikes on this Mediterranean port in past days.
"We are praying for her," said Fatima, a laboratory technician doubling as a nurse at Jabal Amal hospital, which is overloaded with the victims of the air strikes. Ali, the doctor treating Nour, said he did not know whether she would survive her injuries. "She has large burns all over her body, she is losing a lot of fluids. She probably won't live; her life is now in God's hands."
More ambulances streamed into the hospital and doctors hurried to treat the victims of the latest bombing. Whatever the Israelis' intended target, the bomb fell on a small water canal next to the Qasmia refugee camp, home to about 500 Palestinians. Its victims were 11 children taking an afternoon swim in the canal.
The first blast left a crater nearly four metres deep, burying many of the swimmers deep under the orange earth. Seven of the children were injured, three critically. Three others have not been found.
The scene was littered with small plastic sandals, several caked in blood. Ismael, the father of one of the children, sat on the edge of the crater, his head in his hands weeping. "Children! Children!" he roared through his tears, "Children here! My son here." He stood and looked down into the crater: "Is Hizbullah here? Only children here," he said, referring to the militant Islamist group that kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and which Israel says it is targeting in the wave of attacks. Another man staggered around behind Ismael, also unable to control his grief.
The children were taken to the intensive care unit, many caked in earth, having been buried deep in the ground. The victims of the blast joined scores of injured from previous attacks across the south of the country.
Ahmed Mrouwe, the hospital's director, said more than 200 wounded people had been brought into the hospital - one of three in the area. "We have received 196 wounded and 25 dead; the majority of them are children and women."
It was the one of the bloodiest days so far in Lebanon, with 41 dead. In Sidon, 25 miles south of Beirut, an Israeli air strike on a road bridge hit two vehicles, killing 10 civilians and wounding at least seven, medical sources told Reuters.
They said both vehicles had been crossing the Rmeileh bridge, heading from the south towards Beirut. Leaflets dropped from Israeli planes have been urging residents in Hizbullah-controlled areas of the south to leave. Nine of the dead were in one vehicle. A woman died in the other vehicle and six members of her family were wounded.
Canada said seven of its nationals had been killed in an Israeli strike while holidaying in the southern Lebanese village of Aitaroun. It was targeted again overnight with six killed, according to local television reports.
Early morning attacks left two men dead in the port of Beirut, and eight Lebanese soldiers were killed in a rocket attack on an army position near Tripoli in the north of the country.
An annex of the hospital in Tyre had been bombed the day before. The attack came as doctors were tending to victims of a strike on a 12-storey residential building, which also housed the civil defence offices, in Tyre. That attack left 21 dead, including several children. Dr Mrouwe said nine people in one family had been killed; only the father had survived.
At the site of the strike, rubble lay strewn hundreds of metres from the building. The face of the building had been ripped off, revealing the insides of homes. Furniture dangled out over the charred wreckage of a cargo truck flipped on its side by the force of the blast.
Huge chunks of cement bricks lay scattered between dozens of crumpled cars. One resident, Mohammed, said he had seen the blast from his house nearby. Amal, his sister's friend, had been killed in the attack; she had just turned five.
At the hospital, small children were grouped in clusters throughout its corridors, many displaced by the strikes on their homes. In one room, a 50-year-old woman lay motionless in her hospital bed, burns covering much of her body. She had narrowly survived the attack on the building. She did not know it yet, but her son had died in the operating theatre earlier that morning.
Asked how it compared to 1996 when Israel launched an attack on the south, killing scores of civilians, Dr Mrouwe said: "It's incomparable, incomparable. In 1996 the majority [of casualties] were fighters. This time we have yet to receive any fighters."
Drones circled overhead almost continuously throughout the day, interrupted by distant roar of fighter planes above.
Dr Mrouwe said: "We only want one of the human rights, we don't need democracy - we just want to live."