Israeli missiles had clearly pierced the very centre of the red
cross on the roof of each ambulance
By Robert Fisk
--- -- From Qlaya, Southern Lebanon -- The battle for
Southern Lebanon is on an epic scale but from the heights above Khiam, the Israelis appear to be in deep trouble. Their F-16s turn
in the high bright sun - small silver fish whose whispers gain in
volume as they dive - and their bombs burst over the old prison
where the Hizbollah are still holding out; but beyond the frontier,
I can see livid fires burning across the Israeli hillside and the
Jewish settlement of Metullah billowing smoke.
It was not meant to be like this, 13 days into Israel's assault on
Lebanon. The Katyushas still streak in pairs out of Khiam, white
contrails that thump into Israel's hillsides and border towns. So is
it frustration or revenge that also keeps Israel's bombs falling on
the innocent? In the early hours of yesterday morning, a tremendous
explosion woke me up, rattling the windows and shaking the trees
outside and a single flash suffused the western sky over Nabatea.
The lives of an entire family of seven had just been extinguished.
And how come - since this now obsesses the humanitarian
organisations working in Lebanon - that the Israelis bombed two
ambulances in Qana, killing two of the wounded inside and wounding
the third civilian for the second time in a day. All the crews were
injured - one with a piece of shrapnel in his neck - but what
worried the Lebanese Red Cross was that the Israeli missiles had
clearly pierced the very centre of the red cross painted on the roof
of each vehicle. Did the pilots use the cross as their aiming point?
The bombardment of Khiam has set off its own brushfires on the
hillside below Qlaya, whose Maronite Christian inhabitants now stand
on the high road above like spectators at a 19th century battle.
Khiam is - or was - a pretty village of cut stone doorways and
tracery windows but Israel's target is the notorious prison in which
- before its retreat from Lebanon in 2000 - hundreds of Hizbollah
members and in some cases their families were held and tortured with
electricity by Israel's proxy South Lebanon Army militia.
This was the same prison complex - turned into a 'Museum of Torture'
by the Hizbollah after the Israeli retreat that was visited by the
late Edward Said shortly before his death. More important, however,
is that many of the Hizbollah men originally held prisoner here were
captives in cells built deep underground below the old French
mandate fort. These same men are now fighting the Israelis, almost
certainly sheltering from their firepower in the same underground
cells in which they once languished, perhaps even storing some of
their missiles there.
In Marjayoun next to Qlaya - once the SLA's headquarters - Lebanese
troops are desperately trying to present Hizbollah guerrillas using
the streets of the Greek Catholic town to fire yet more missiles at
Israel. Seven-man army patrols are moving through the darkened
alleyways of both towns at night in case Hizbollah brings yet more
Israel bombs down on our heads.
In war, all one's senses are quickened. Dawn, birds, music, flowers
acquire a new meaning. A family is still living in the little villa
opposite my house and I watched a woman at dusk, picking vegetables
in her garden for supper, ignoring the howl of Israeli aircraft in
the sky above her and the sinister changes in air pressure from
In Beirut, one observes the folly of western nations with amusement
as well as horror but sitting in these hill villages and listening
to how US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to reshape
Lebanon is clearly a lesson in human self-delusion.
According to American correspondents accompanying Ms Rice on her
visit to the Middle East, she is proposing the intervention of a
NATO-led force along the Lebanese-Israeli border for between 60 and
90 days to assure that a ceasefire exists, the deployment after this
of an enlarged NATO-led force throughout Lebanon to ensure the
disarmament of Hezbollah, and then the retraining of the Lebanese
Army before it too deploys to the border. This plan - which like all
American proposals on Lebanon is exactly the same as Israel's
demands - carries the same depth of delusional conceit as that of
the Israeli consul-general in New York who said last week that 'most
Lebanese appreciate what we are doing.'
Does Ms Rice think the Hizbollah want to be disarmed, albeit it
under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1559? By NATO?
Wasn't there a NATO force in Beirut which fled Lebanon after a group
close to the Hizbollah bombed the US marine base at Beirut airport
in 1983, killing 241 US servicemen, and dozens more French troops a
few seconds later? Does anyone believe that Shiite Muslim forces
will not do the same again to any NATO 'intervention' force. The
Hizbollah have been waiting and training and dreaming of this war
for years, however ruthless we may regard their actions. They are
not going to surrender the territory they liberated from the Israeli
Army in an 18-year guerrilla war, least of all to NATO at Israel's
The problem, surely, is that the United States sees this bloodbath
as an 'opportunity' rather than a tragedy, a chance to humble
Hizbollah's supporters in Tehran and help to shape the 'new Middle
East' of which Ms Rice spoke so blandly yesterday. In fact it will
more likely to prove to be Syria's attempt to humble Israel and the
United States in Lebanon.
Of course, the Hizbollah have brought catastrophe to their
coreligionists. All the way down the Beka'a Valley to Southern
Lebanon, the long, dangerous, bomb-cratered roads I had to travel to
reach Qlaya were deserted save for cars driven by panicking men,
crammed with families, trailing white sheets out of the windows in
the forlorn hope - after all the Israeli air attacks on civilians -
that this would provide them with protection.
The only civilian walking these frightening roads was a goatherd,
shepherding his animals around the huge craters. Talking to him, it
emerged that he was almost stone deaf and could not hear the bombs.
In this, it seemed, he had a lot in common with Condoleezza Rice.