hey wrote the names of the dead children on their
plastic shrouds. " Mehdi Hashem, aged seven Qana," was written in
felt pen on the bag in which the little boy's body lay. "Hussein
al-Mohamed, aged 12 Qana", "Abbas al-Shalhoub, aged one Qana.''
And when the Lebanese soldier went to pick up Abbas's little body,
it bounced on his shoulder as the boy might have done on his
father's shoulder on Saturday. In all, there were 56 corpses brought
to the Tyre government hospital and other surgeries, and 34 of them
were children. When they ran out of plastic bags, they wrapped the
small corpses in carpets. Their hair was matted with dust, most had
blood running from their noses.
You must have a heart of stone not to feel the outrage that those of
us watching this experienced yesterday. This slaughter was an
obscenity, an atrocity yes, if the Israeli air force truly bombs
with the " pinpoint accuracy'' it claims, this was also a war crime.
Israel claimed that missiles had been fired by Hizbollah gunmen from
the south Lebanese town of Qana as if that justified this
massacre. Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, talked about "Muslim
terror" threatening " western civilisation" as if the Hizbollah
had killed all these poor people.
And in Qana, of all places. For only 10 years ago, this was the
scene of another Israeli massacre, the slaughter of 106 Lebanese
refugees by an Israeli artillery battery as they sheltered in a UN
base in the town. More than half of those 106 were children. Israel
later said it had no live-time pilotless photo-reconnaissance
aircraft over the scene of that killing a statement that turned
out to be untrue when The Independent discovered videotape showing
just such an aircraft over the burning camp. It is as if Qana
whose inhabitants claim that this was the village in which Jesus
turned water into wine has been damned by the world, doomed
forever to receive tragedy.
And there was no doubt of the missile which killed all those
children yesterday. It came from the United States, and upon a
fragment of it was written: "For use on MK-84 Guided Bomb BSU-37-B".
No doubt the manufacturers can call it "combat-proven" because it
destroyed the entire three-storey house in which the Shalhoub and
Hashim families lived. They had taken refuge in the basement from an
enormous Israeli bombardment, and that is where most of them died.
I found Nejwah Shalhoub lying in the government hospital in Tyre,
her jaw and face bandaged like Robespierre's before his execution.
She did not weep, nor did she scream, although the pain was written
on her face. Her brother Taisir, who was 46, had been killed. So had
her sister Najla. So had her little niece Zeinab, who was just six.
"We were in the basement hiding when the bomb exploded at one
o'clock in the morning,'' she said. "What in the name of God have we
done to deserve this? So many of the dead are children, the old,
women. Some of the children were still awake and playing. Why does
the world do this to us?"
Yesterday's deaths brought to more than 500 the total civilian dead
in Lebanon since Israel's air, sea and land bombardment of the
country began on 12 July after Hizbollah members crossed the
frontier wire, killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two
others. But yesterday's slaughter ended more than a year of mutual
antagonism within the Lebanese government as pro-American and
pro-Syrian politicians denounced what they described as " an ugly
Thousands of protesters attacked the largest United Nations building
in Beirut, screaming: "Destroy Tel Aviv, destroy Tel Aviv," and
Lebanon's Prime Minister, the normally unflappable Fouad Siniora,
called US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and ordered her to
cancel her imminent peace-making trip to Beirut.
No one in this country can forget how President George Bush, Ms
Rice, and Tony Blair have repeatedly refused to call for an
immediate ceasefire a truce that would have saved all those lives
yesterday. Ms Rice would say only: "We want a ceasefire as soon as
possible,'' a remark followed by an Israeli announcement that it
intended to maintain its bombardment of Lebanon for at least another
Ehud Olmert (b. 1945)
Throughout the day, Qana villagers and civil
defence workers dug through the ruins of the building with
spades and with their hands, tearing at the muck until they
found one body after another still dressed in colourful clothes.
In one section of the rubble, they found what was left of a
single room with 18 bodies inside. Twelve of the dead were
women. All across southern Lebanon now, you find scenes like
this, not so grotesque in scale, perhaps, but just as terrible,
for the people of these villages are terrified to leave and
terrified to stay. The Israelis had dropped leaflets over Qana,
ordering its people to leave their homes. Yet twice now since
Israel's onslaught began, the Israelis have ordered villagers to
leave their houses and then attacked them with aircraft as they
obeyed the Israeli instructions and fled. There are at least
3,000 Shia Muslims trapped in villages between Qlaya and
Aiteroun close to the scene of Israel's last military
incursion at Bint Jbeil and yet none of them can leave without
fear of dying on the roads.
And Mr Olmert's reaction? After expressing
his "great sorrow", he announced that: "We will not stop this
battle, despite the difficult incidents [sic] this morning. We
will continue the activity, and if necessary it will be
broadened without hesitation." But how much further can it be