Death toll may be 1,000
July 29, 2006
Openly backed and armed by the United States, Israel is carrying
out mounting atrocities in Lebanon in an attempt to overcome unexpectedly
fierce resistance from the Hezbollah movement. With its 17-day
aerial bombardment having failed to wipe out Hezbollah, or weaken
its support among the population, Israel has intensified its onslaught.
Internationally banned munitions designed to cause massive
civilian casualties—including phosphorous, air-sucking bombs
and cluster bombs—are being used to terrorise the Lebanese
people, force a mass exodus of residents from south Lebanon and
pulverise Hezbollah forces in preparation for a larger ground
In one of the latest war crimes, an Australian-organised convoy
seeking to rescue 50 civilians from the village of Ramesh was
fired upon by Israeli forces. Those wounded included a German
TV cameraman and his driver, who were reporting from the rear
of the convoy.
It was one of many attacks on reporters, indicating a concerted
effort to hide the scale and ferocity of the assault from the
people of the world, as well as from ordinary Israelis, whose
media has largely blacked out coverage from inside Lebanon.
The targetting of news crews follows the deliberate bombing
of the UN observation post at Khiam, killing four UN soldiers,
which seems to have had the desired result of preventing UN monitoring
of the carnage. The UN announced yesterday the withdrawal of a
number of remaining posts along the Israeli-Lebanese border, citing
The initial war plans of the Kadima-Labour government of Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert are in disarray. Olmert had hoped for a relatively
quick "shock and awe" victory by means of US-supplied
warplanes and missiles. In the latest setback, after sustaining
heavy losses, including eight deaths, Israeli troops have been
forced to pull back from the key border town of Bint Jbeil, three
days after claiming to have captured it.
In response to its losses, Israel has unleashed a murderous
blitz aimed against the entire population of south Lebanon. After
a cabinet meeting Thursday, the Olmert government suggested that
anyone still living there was a combatant, and therefore a military
Army radio quoted a member of the security cabinet, saying:
"We should raze the villages in south Lebanon if needed.
The Israeli army is a long way from having won, and we have to
change the rules of the game... The more time passes, the more
it appears that the only solution is a massive incursion up to
the Awali River [more than 60 kilometres north of the border]
to destroy all the missile-launching sites."
Even according to media reports, which give only a limited
picture of the bombing, Israeli warplanes have pounded villages
in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, hitting more than 100
sites and killing at least 13 people on Friday. Warplanes repeatedly
bombed hill villages near the southern port of Tyre, while hundreds
of artillery rounds crashed across the border from Israel.
Aircraft lobbed more than 400 missiles and bombs on just one
village, Khiam, where the UN post had been blown apart a day earlier.
Also among the targets were an army base north of Beirut, a radio
communications centre and three trucks carrying medical and food
supplies to the east.
The barrage has extended to the ancient port city of Tyre,
where apartment buildings were blown apart on Thursday. In Tyre,
Reuters reported: "Ghassan Farran, a doctor and head of a
local cultural organization, gazes in disbelief at the pile of
smoking ruins which was once his home. Minutes earlier, an Israeli
jet dropped two guided missiles into the six-story apartment block
in the centre of Tyre. 'Look what America gives us, bombs
and missiles,’ he said."
Hundreds of people fled the Shiite border village of Aita al-Shaab
to take refuge in the nearby Christian town of Rmeish, where some
were reduced to drinking contaminated water from farm pools. "We
are with the resistance," a resident, Fatmeh Srour, told
Reuters. "But we need supplies to remain steadfast. My three-month-old
baby hasn’t eaten for two days because there’s no baby
milk." Aid workers said it was impossible to get medical
supplies and food safely to such villages due to Israeli bombing.
The attacks have heightened the humanitarian catastrophe in
the south, where Lebanese Civil Defence officials estimate up
to 1,000 people may already have been killed in the first two
weeks of the war.
Civil Defence member Abu Chadi in Tyre yesterday told the Lebanese
Daily Star: "Just driving through the south, we see
abandoned, burned-out cars with rotting bodies inside, but can’t
reach them because when we try we are shot at by Israeli planes.
A majority of the corpses that we have handled so far have been
women and children."
The newspaper reported that the number of fatalities so far
had been "grossly underestimated," according to paramedics
and emergency response crews. Sami Yazbek, the head of Red Cross
operations in Tyre, said: "In Tyre alone we had 125 dead
and 150 missing or buried under the rubble. Those trapped under
the rubble are impossible to reach due to the complete destruction
of the roads in the south, so we have no choice but to presume
they are dead by now."
The Daily Star interviewed Ali Basma, 19, and his cousin
Mohammed al-Samra, 20, who were hit by an Israeli missile as they
rode a motorcycle in search of food for their families. "We
were being very careful and checking the sky and listening carefully,
and still we didn’t see the missile coming," Basma said
from his hospital bed in Tyre’s Najim Hospital, where he
is recovering from multiple fractures. "They seem to hit
anything moving now."
As of July 28, at least 445 people, most of them civilians,
have been confirmed killed in Lebanon, according to a Reuters
tally. More than half of the casualties at the Beirut Government
University Hospital were children of 15 years of age or less,
according to hospital records.
"This is worse than during the Lebanese civil war,"
Bilal Masri, assistant director of the Tyre hospital said, adding
that so many children were becoming casualties because of the
"widespread and indiscriminate nature of the bombings"
and they "are least able to run away when the bombings commence."
Lebanese Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh said hospitals had
received 401 bodies of people killed during the war. "On
top of those victims, there are 150 to 200 bodies still under
the rubble. We have not been able to pull them out because the
areas they died in are still under fire," he said.
In a series of chilling reports, the International Committee
of the Red Cross said bodies still lay in the streets in some
isolated Lebanese border villages, where fighting has trapped
unknown numbers of terrified civilians hiding in makeshift shelters.
After the return of an aid mission to villages such as Bint Jbeil,
Aitarun, Kfar Kila, Hula, Meiss el Jebel, Blida e Rmeish, the
Red Cross warned that "health, water and food conditions
"The water trucks are no longer capable of replenishing
supplies in many inhabited centres and the pumps aren’t working
because there isn’t any electricity, nor is there fuel...
most generic medicines are also needed, especially those used
to treat chronic pathologies."
Returning from Blida, a few kilometres from Bint Jbeil, a Red
Cross officer said he saw some 700 people, including 300 children,
seeking shelter in a mosque. "In other isolated villages
the roads are deserted, the people are afraid to leave their homes
because of the bombs, the corpses of the victims have not been
removed from the streets and some are buried by the rubble."
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
said a food crisis was looming, as the fighting had destroyed
roads and bridges and forced people to abandon their crops.
Illegal weapons used
After an emergency cabinet meeting last weekend, the Lebanese
government accused Israel of using "internationally prohibited
weapons against civilians." Lebanese media reports stated
that Israel used phosphorous incendiary bombs and vacuum bombs
that suck up air and facilitate building collapses. The use of
incendiary weapons against civilians has been banned by Protocol
III to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons since 1980.
Jawad Najem, a surgeon at Tyre hospital, said patients had
burns from phosphorous incendiary weapons. "Mahmoud Sarour,
14, was admitted to the hospital and treated for phosphorous burns
to his face," Najem said. Mahmoud’s 8-month-old sister,
Maryam, suffered similar burns on her neck and hands when an Israeli
rocket hit the family car. The children were with their father,
mother and other relatives. Their father died instantly.
Bachir Cham, a Belgian-Lebanese doctor at the Southern Medical
Centre in Sidon, received eight bodies after an Israeli air raid
on nearby Rmeili. Cham said the bodies of some victims were "black
as shoes, so they are definitely using chemical weapons. They
are all black but their hair and skin is intact so they are not
really burnt. It is something else."
Lebanese officials confirmed Israel’s use of cluster bombs
in several areas in the south, including the towns of Blida, Hebbariyeh
and Kfarhamam. There are fears that many more people, particularly
children, could die from coming into contact with unexploded cluster
bomblets. The Lebanese Daily Star said a senior official
within the Lebanese Army informed it that the military issued
"warnings to citizens in the places bombed by Israel not
to get near or touch suspicious bodies, which might be unexploded
There is clear evidence of Israeli military efforts to block,
intimidate and kill news reporters. The New York-based Committee
to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concern on July 27 over
allegations by several television crews that Israeli warplanes
had attacked them, effectively shutting down live television coverage
from southeast Lebanon.
Crews from four Arab television stations told CPJ that Israeli
aircraft fired missiles within 75 metres of them on July 22 to
prevent them from covering the effects of Israel’s bombardment
around Khiam. Ghassan Benjeddou, Al-Jazeera’s Lebanon bureau
chief, said: "Israeli aircraft targeted in an air raid TV
crews, especially Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and Al-Manar. It’s
a miracle that our crew survived the attack." The journalists
said they managed to get away on back roads but the planes followed
and again trapped the vehicles by firing missiles at the road
ahead of them and behind them. "Their cars were clearly marked
'Press’ and 'TV’," Nabil Khatib, executive
editor of Al Arabiya, told CPJ.
While journalists based in Israel have generally been able
to cover Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) operations (subject to Israeli
military censorship), live television pictures of the Israeli
operation along the border from the Lebanese side are now virtually
impossible, journalists said. Broadcasters said a few individual
TV journalists and media support staff remained in some southern
Lebanese towns and villages, but getting TV footage out was extremely
Journalists said any vehicles, including TV vehicles, travelling
between towns and villages were targeted by Israeli planes if
spotted on the road. One journalist who ventured into the area
was Layal Najib, 23, a freelance photographer for the Lebanese
magazine Al-Jaras and Agence France-Presse. She was killed
July 23 by an Israeli missile while travelling in a taxi to cover
Lebanese fleeing north. A day earlier, Suleiman al-Chidiac, a
technician for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), was
killed during Israeli air attacks on television transmitters and
telephone towers in north Lebanon.
While admitting targetting Al-Manar, a satellite channel affiliated
with Hezbollah, Israeli officials denied any deliberate attacks
on journalists. Yet, there is a long record of such violence.
In 2002, for example, during Israel’s six-week military offensive
in the West Bank, IDF declared nearly all of the main cities "closed
military areas" and off-limits to the press. Journalists
attempting to cover the action were frequently thwarted at checkpoints
and the CPJ documented numerous instances in which troops fired
on or in the direction of clearly identified journalists.
Authorities also detained and threatened members of the press,
confiscated their credentials and film, and in some cases expelled
them from the country. Troops raided, and at times temporarily
occupied, media offices in the West Bank. In one case that drew
widespread international media coverage, IDF troops hurled stun
grenades and fired rubber bullets at reporters waiting outside
the besieged Ramallah compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.