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Civilians in the cross fire
Yahoo! News


July 27, 2006
Thursday AM

TYRE, Lebanon -- Israeli air strikes are taking a tremendous toll on civilians in southern Lebanon - including an attack on a bus filled with women and children that left three dead and 13 injured, many of them severely.

At Jabal Amel Hospital in the southern city of Tyre, where most of the victims were taken, Rhonda Shaloub is wheeled into a recovery room next to her 15-year-old niece, Radije, following emergency surgery.

Their faces are both mummy-wrapped with gauze bandages. There are openings only for their noses and mouths. What can be seen of their faces is deeply disturbing. There is blood seeping at the edges of Shaloub's bandages, while Radije's lips are stitched with medical sutures, the skin on her chin speckled with red tissue damage caused by the blast.

Shaloub is still deeply sedated from surgery, but when she does regain consciousness she will be told that her husband and her mother are dead, both killed when the bus was hit Sunday.

A nurse at the hospital says the victims were traveling from their village of Tairi, fleeing north because of the air strikes, when their own bus was hit.

In another room down the hallway, another victim of the bus attack, Radia Shaitoo, raises her bandaged and broken arm near her face, which is covered with tiny blast lacerations. She rolls her head back and forth on the pillow and moans almost as if she is sick. She mumbles something like, "Only people with no religion would do this," an insult against Israel.

The bus incident is one of the most dramatic illustrations of civilians being killed and wounded by Israeli air strikes, which Israel claims are focused on Hezbollah forces and weapons. Yet the strikes are having a punishing effect on the general Lebanese population and infrastructure.

"People are starting to realize this isn't a war against Hezbollah," says Timor Goksel, the former longtime head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. "It's a war against the country, against the infrastructure."

Some analysts have theorized that with attacks against civilians and non-military installations, Israel is trying to turn the Lebanese population against Hezbollah by making it pay a price as Hezbollah's host nation. Goksel says the strategy will never work, since Hezbollah isn't just an organization, but part of the fabric of Shia society.

"I spent a lot of time in the south," he says. "I've seen women down there attack Israeli tanks with knives. You're not going to turn these people against Hezbollah by making their lives miserable."

At the entrance to Jabal Amel Hospital, an exhausted medical technician, Bassem Mteirek, lies on an empty gurney, taking a short break from the flood of patients.

"We've seen more than 400 people come through this hospital in the last 10 days," he says, shaking his head.

At the base of the gurney is a suitcase covered with blood. It belonged to one of the passengers on the bus. A man comes out of the entrance, talking on the telephone. He has lost his wife in the attack. He says he's too heartbroken to speak. He picks up the suitcase and walks back inside.

In another hospital room inside, Aneza Hamza lies in bed with a head injury and a broken leg, a victim of an earlier air strike. When I approach her, she covers the bandages on her head with her scarf. She is an older woman, but despite her injuries she smiles beatifically and seems almost cheerful.

"What can we do," she says, with a slight shrug.

Imani Darwish doesn't have a scratch, but lost her husband and four of her eight children in an air strike against an apartment building in Tyre. The only reason she is alive, she says, is because one of her daughters was in the hospital, pregnant, and she was visiting. She shows no sign of grief about the loss.

"We can't cry every day," she says. "What good will that do? It's all up to God what happens."

Amina Shaloub and her 12-year-old son, Hussein, were victims of an air strike against a civil defense building in Tyre. Her face has the now-familiar marks of blast trauma. Her son took shrapnel in the stomach, which had to be removed by surgeons.

"I'm happy for my life and I'm happy for the life of my son," she says. "But it doesn't really matter if we live or die. Whatever (happens) is God's will."

Asked if they can ever live in peace with Israel, especially after the toll from the recent air strikes, she is surprisingly conciliatory.

"If they stop bombing the women and children, if they let us live in freedom," she says, "then we can live with them like family, like brothers and sisters."


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