Veteran Reporter for British Paper, Based in Beirut, Recounts Chilling Episode

By: E&P Staff

Robert Fisk, chief Middle East correspondent for the daily London newspaper, The Independent, has lived in Beirut for almost three decades. In recent years he has closely covered the Iraq war and other regional struggles and is the author of several books, including “Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon.”

Amy Goodman, for her popular national radio show, which also appears on cable TV, “Demcoracy Now,” reached Fisk at his home in Beirut for an interview that produced a particularly chilling episode involving three Lebanese soldiers and how they met their end. A portion of the transcript of the interview follows. The entire interview can be found at www.democracynow.org.
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ROBERT FISK: It amazes me — I mean, living here in Beirut, as I have for 30 years. Here are the Lebanese people, sophisticated, educated, cosmopolitan, people who don’t look like the Arab world, they look like us; I mean, people who could be quite at home on the streets of Paris or New York and London, and some of them are; people who read, who are very well educated; people who speak English fluently, French beautifully, and fluent Arabic, as well, of course; and who, when they die in such large numbers, the best we can produce is a call for restraint by the State Department and a claim by the British, our own dear Tony Blair, that the Israelis are using disproportionate force….

It’s a tragedy of immense proportions, because it?s also tearing apart a country. In the last 24 hours we found the Israelis have turned to attacking a milk factory, Liban Lait — it?s actually the producers of milk I drink every morning in my tea — a paper box factory, for heaven?s sakes, hardly a terrorist target. We’ve already seen them smash up the runways of Beirut Airport and destroy part of the — most of the lighthouse, the new Manara lighthouse, in Beirut. The Israelis today even attacked the factory which imports Procter & Gamble goods here. We’ve had an ambulance convoy, a convoy of new ambulances from the United Emirates, cross from Syria into Lebanon, got attacked from the air. It’s an all-out war against the economy infrastructure of a country that was at last beginning to look modern again, after the 15 years of civil war, which cost 150,000 lives. And it’s very sad to see.

I think the massacre of the innocents must obviously apply to both sides. The Israeli dead have an equal right to that claim. But the scale — I mean, ?disproportionate? is not the word for it — the scale of the response is obscene.

Even a small example, I?ll give you. Yesterday, something fell out of the sky over a small area of Beirut called Qurashim [sic]. I think it was part of the wing, the wingtip of an F-16. The Israelis say it?s not, but I think it probably was. And it crashed in a fiery volcano glow and burned trees, bushes, the roadway, and decapitated a young man in his car who was driving home to his family.

I got there in about eight minutes. And there were three very friendly Lebanese soldiers. By chance, I knew one of them, the sergeant, who said, ?Mr. Robert, you must be very careful. The Israelis will come back and bomb again, but we?ll take you into the fire and show you as much as we can.? And they stood around me and protected me as we went up the road for about a mile walking — or running, to be very honest with you, because Mr. Fisk here is not a very brave warrior. And I saw parts of what appears to be a wing. I think it was burning fuel all over the road. I think it came out of whatever the aircraft was. I think what actually happened is a Hezbollah missile probably hit an F-16, and the Israelis didn’t want to claim it. They said that it was part of a barrel containing propaganda pamphlets and leaflets, which — well, I didn’t see leaflets anyway, and I know they burn on fuel, but anyway, I saw what I could and got away afterwards and said, you know, waved at the soldiers and thanked them.

And the Israelis did come back some hours later and bombed the barracks of these soldiers, which were members of a logistics unit. Their job was to repair bridges and electrical lines. They weren’t combat soldiers. And they killed ten Lebanese soldiers, including the three young men who had protected me the previous day. This was outrageous, because the Israelis know what each individual Lebanese army unit is doing. They know if it’s a combat unit, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, whatever.

And they picked on this sole barracks to destroy those men, to exterminate them, because, of course, their job was to keep Beirut alive, to keep the power systems running, to repair the bridges which were being destroyed — 46 bridges now, according to Minister of Finance, who told me this a few hours ago, have been destroyed in Lebanon. This is the inheritance, of course, of former prime minister, assassinated prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was murdered on the 14th of February last year. He rebuilt this country. He rebuilt the city of Beirut.

Now, bit by bit the bridges, the lighthouse, the international airport are being destroyed.

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