U.S. Reporters Chronicle Human Misery in Lebanon

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By: E&P Staff

Reports from inside Lebanon by reporters for major U.S. newspapers on Saturday made clear the extent of the humanitarian crisis in that country that has been downplayed by many officials in Washington and by some in the media.

Here are excerpts from three of Saturday’s reports.

Megan Stack, Los Angeles Times, from Tyre:

They would bury their dead in mass graves, the doctors decided. The government hospital had run out of room for human remains by Friday. More than 100 bomb-wrecked bodies were already crammed into poorly refrigerated container trucks, and more corpses were pouring in daily.

So they built cheap coffins of pine. Bulldozers carved 6-foot-deep trenches into a desolate lot littered with old telephone poles.

The stench of death seeped into the warm seaside air as the dead were brought out. Children pinched their noses; the men’s faces grew a little stonier. Men and boys jostled on the streets and hoisted themselves up hospital walls to better view the spectacle.

There was no opportunity for a more dignified burial: The clashes between Israel and Hezbollah have been too fierce for people to collect their loved ones or hold funerals.

“I’ve been a doctor for years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Nabil Harkus, a slight man who stood over a trio of unidentified corpses and spoke with slow, intense rage. “They can’t fight Hezbollah because Hezbollah is not an army,” he said, referring to the Israeli warplanes overhead. “They kill the people because they think it’s the only way to stop Hezbollah.”

The Lebanese government has confirmed the deaths of about 350 people in the fighting, but rescue workers here warn that the tally is probably much higher. Relentless bombing has wrecked roads and rendered communication so spotty that no one knows how many people have died…..

In the 75 villages surrounding Tyre, at least 180 people have been killed, according to the district’s Red Cross office. The International Committee of the Red Cross says those are only the ones it knows about and that there may be more.

In the village of Srifa, just 10 minutes outside Tyre, 60 to 80 corpses remain trapped in the rubble of a building, according to the Red Cross.

“There’s no way to get them out,” said Qasim Chaalan, a Red Cross volunteer. “The firemen are afraid to go to that area, and they’re the ones with the equipment.”

At least one Red Cross ambulance has been hit by an Israeli missile, Chaalan said, and there have been near-misses as well.

Rescue workers have decided that there’s no point in risking their necks to pick up a corpse.

“They’ll take the risk if there’s a wounded casualty,” he said, “but not if there’s just a body.”

Anthony Shadid in The Washington Post, filed from Deir Qanun Al-Nahr:

A road of death and desolation coils through southern Lebanon.

In peacetime, the road trip from Tyre to Deir Qanun in southern Lebanon is 10 miles. In war, the town is reached after a 60-mile trek of more than two hours, past pulverized homes, roads blocked by craters, rubble and the burned stumps of citrus trees, forsaken villages with not a resident in sight and long stretches of deserted streets seized with fear of Israeli attacks. The lucky — with money and means — have left. The less fortunate, like 19-year-old Diab, hide, as an abandoned, bleak landscape awaits an even fiercer war.

“Take my number! Write it down!” pleaded Abu Hamadeh, a 35-year-old dentist standing in the street in Maarake, on the road to Deir Qanun. “If you know someone who can get to me to Beirut, I’ll pay. Everyone’s gone. Tell me how to get there!”

Bombing rattled the iron gate of his building every few minutes, as reverberations of the blasts echoed along the street.

“Don’t worry,” he said, reassuring, as the few women out hurried indoors. “Those are far away.”

Hamadeh’s generator gave him enough electricity for an hour a day, but fuel was running short. The cost of a liter of gasoline has increased tenfold here. Without power, water from tanks on the roofs cannot be pushed through the faucets. He pointed to the garbage that had collected in piles along the street, putrefying in the heat. Swarms of flies gathered around it.

“Look at it,” he said, pointing. “We tell the municipality to get it out of here, and they tell us to screw ourselves.”

“Lebanon has gone back five years,” he said. He stopped, shaking his head. “I take that back. Not five, 50.”….

The road returns to Tyre, where the city prepared to inter in a temporary grave 81 corpses collected from the villages of southern Lebanon. Once the fighting subsided and the roads were safe again, their families would bury them in their own towns.

Through the morning, workers hammered cheap plywood into coffins, each one with a small copper emblem bearing a number. On the covers, the victims’ names were scrawled in black, gray, red or pink. Workers wore blue surgical masks in the sun as they placed the bodies in the coffins and then lined them up against a white wall marked with a row of numbers.

The places of origin of the dead read like a map of southern Lebanon: Zibqin, Aitaroun, Naqoura, Yater, Shahour, Bozuriya Maroun al-Ras and Marwaheen, where at least 16 residents fleeing the village were killed in an Israeli attack Saturday. Identification numbers were paired with the names: Saeed Hamza Abbas, No. 39; Zeinab Mehdi, No. 44; Hussein Farid, No. 49; Haitham Farid, No. 50.

“This is so inhuman,” said Rabia Abu Khashb, 28, as he surveyed the coffins, 15 sized in half for children.

“God protect them,” he said softly. “God awaits them.”

By afternoon, the military brought them to an open field, where a bulldozer had excavated two trenches 70 yards long and two yards deep. Across the field a house of concrete and cinder block had been struck in a bombing, its floors pancaked. In the backdrop, Israeli air raids targeted the city’s outskirts, columns of debris rising into a dusk-shadowed sky.

In the first coffin lay Mustafa Ghannam, one of those fleeing Marwaheen. Then his cousin, Hussein Mohammed Ghannam. Down the row were the coffins of two children from the same family: Qassem Mohammed Ghannam and Zeinab Mohammed Ghannam.

A women in black sobbed. “My sweetheart, yesterday you were playing with me. Who will I play with tomorrow?”

Others offered testaments — photos taken by cell phone or a bystander’s whisper: “There is no strength and power save in God.” One man yelled, “God is greater than Israel!” Many simply stood, their faces drawn, in silence.

“These people, what was their sin to die?” asked Ziad Shahadi, one of the onlookers.

“None of them was carrying a weapon. None of them was wearing a uniform. None of them were soldiers on the ground,” he said. “They were all civilians. There’s no military honor in this, none. How could there be? Killing the young and the old.”

More coffins were heaved into the grave from the back of an army truck.

“Bring number 32!” one soldier yelled. “Number 32 is with you,” a colleague answered. “There’s no 32 here,” another responded.

Nails popped out, and a soldier hammered them back in with a rock. A jet trail passed. “Hurry!” one soldier shouted.

As the rest of the coffins were lined up, a bulldozer began pushing in fine sand. And as the sun began to set, a last coffin arrived, holding the victim of bombing a few hours before in Burj Shamali, on Tyre’s outskirts. The name and number were scrawled with black marker.

Fatima Shaib was No. 82.

Hannah Allam for McClatchy newspapers from Beirut:

More than 300 Lebanese have died in the air raids, including more than 100 children and 23 Lebanese soldiers. The government in Beirut estimates the onslaught has displaced 500,000 residents, with 100,000 camping out in overflowing public schools.

This uneven, deadly tit-for-tat has halted Lebanon’s progress toward a democratic government representative of its diversity. It also has left smoking ruins throughout a capital that took years to rebuild….

Throughout the capital Friday, symbols of Lebanon’s gains were juxtaposed with signs of its new losses.

Cranes rose up from construction sites for new luxury apartment buildings. Next to a billboard touting a building project led by Ivana Trump, dozens of Canadians hauling suitcases were lined up to board a ship that would spirit them away from Lebanon. More than 60,000 expatriates, including at least 2,000 Americans, already have fled, with many more waiting to evacuate.

Posters advertised a concert by the American hip-hop sensation 50 Cent, who now shares wall space with pro-Hezbollah graffiti. Several chic French bakeries and major department stores have reopened, though shoppers stocked up in the dark because electricity is sporadic. The Cartier and Bulgari proprietors had snatched their diamonds from shop windows, perhaps fearful of looting if the area was bombed. The same went for designer clothing stores, where the mannequins stood naked and the doors were padlocked.

But these were all minor scars compared with the wreckage of Beirut’s predominantly Shiite south suburbs. Massive and repeated Israeli hits have reduced most of the area to smoldering debris. Half a million Lebanese lived and worked in the suburbs, where Hezbollah also kept political and charity offices. The once-bustling area has turned into a dangerous knot of live wires, trash and concrete.

“I pray to God to make this war stop,” said Ghada Mabsout, 21, whose parents moved the family to Beirut this week to flee the violence in her southern hometown. “I ask for peace and for Lebanon to overcome this war as one. I just wish things could go back to how they were.”

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