Massacre in sanctuary

Eyewitness

Qana, southern Lebanon - It was a massacre. Not since Sabra and Chatila had I seen the innocent slaughtered like this. The Lebanese refugee women and children and men lay in heaps, their hands or arms or legs missing, beheaded or disembowelled. There were well over a hundred of them. A baby lay without a head. The Israeli shells had scythed through them as they lay in the United Nations shelter, believing that they were safe under the world's protection. Like the Muslims of Srebrenica, the Muslims of Qana were wrong.

In front of a burning building of the UN's Fijian battalion headquarters, a girl held a corpse in her arms, the body of a grey-haired man whose eyes were staring at her, and she rocked the corpse back and forth in her arms, keening and weeping and crying the same words over and over: "My father, my father." A Fijian UN soldier stood amid a sea of bodies and, without saying a word, held aloft the body of a headless child.

"The Israelis have just told us they'll stop shelling the area," a UN soldier said, shaking with anger. "Are we supposed to thank them?" In the remains of a burning building - the conference room of the Fijian UN headquarters - a pile of corpses was burning. The roof had crashed in flames onto their bodies, cremating them in front of my eyes. When I walked towards them, I slipped on a human hand.

So why did the Israelis kill all these refugee civilians - more than 70 at the latest count - and go on sending 25 shells into the survivors and the bodies around them for up to 10 minutes after the first round had landed? A Fijian soldier, looking at a dead woman lying at his feet, her neck encircled with blood, said simply: "The guerrillas fired six Katyushas from near our position. The shells came in two minutes later. But the Israelis know we're here. This has been a UN battalion headquarters for 18 years. They knew we had 600 refugees here."

"Indeed they did. The Israelis know that 5,200 penniless civilians - too poor to flee to Beirut - are crowded into the compounds of the 4,500- strong UN force. The Fijian battalion headquarters is clearly marked on Israel's military maps. The UN buildings were plastered with white and black UN signs. They are lit up at night. Not a soul in southern Lebanon is ignorant of their location. Nor is the Hizbollah. It is not the first time the guerrillas have fired their missiles at Israel from beside a UN building; when a Fijian officer tried to prevent the Hizbollah from firing rockets close to his position on the coast road two days ago, a Hizbollah man shot him in the chest.

But does a Hizbollah target of opportunity justify the nightmare scenes which confronted us yesterday? Are Lebanese civilians worth so little on the immoral scales of war that armies can write them off as "collateral damage" while following the hopeless goal of eradicating "terrorism" by gunfire and blood? True, the Hizbollah should bear a burden of guilt, though they will refuse to do so.

But Israel's slaughter of civilians in this terrible 10-day offensive - 206 by last night (- has been so cavalier, so ferocious, that not a Lebanese will forgive this massacre. There had been the ambulance attacked on Saturday, the sisters killed in Yohmor the day before, the 2-year-old girl decapitated by an Israeli missile four days ago. And earlier yesterday, the Israelis had slaughtered a family of 12 - the youngest was a four- day-old baby - when Israeli helicopter pilots fired missiles into their home.

Shortly afterwards, three Israeli jets dropped bombs only 250 metres from a UN convoy on which I was travelling, blasting a house 30 feet into the air in front of my eyes. Travelling back to Beirut to file my report on the Qana massacre to the Independent last night, I found two Israeli gunboats firing at the civilian cars on the river bridge north of Sidon.

Every foreign army comes to grief in Lebanon. The Sabra and Chatila massacre of Palestinians by Israel's militia allies in 1982 doomed Israel's 1982 invasion. Now the Israelis are stained again by the bloodbath at Qana, the scruffy little Lebanese hill town where the Lebanese believe Jesus turned water into wine.

The Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres may now wish to end this war. But the Hizbollah are not likely to let him. Israel is back in the Lebanese quagmire. Nor will the Arab world forget yesterday'a terrible scenes.

The blood of all the refugees ran quite literally in streams from the shell-smashed UN compound restaurant in which the Shiite Muslims from the hill villages of southern Lebanon - who had heeded Israel's order to leave their homes - had pathetically sought shelter. Fijian and French soldiers heaved another group of dead - they lay with their arms tightly wrapped around each other - into xblankets.

A French UN trooper muttered oaths to himself as he opened a bag in which he was dropping feet, fingers, pieces of people's arms.

And as we walked through this obscenity, a swarm of people burst into the compound. They had driven in wild convoys down from Tyre and began to pull the blankets off the mutilated corpses of their mothers and sons and daughters and to shriek "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great") and to threaten the UN troops.

We had suddenly become not UN troops and journalists but Westerners, Israel's allies, an object of hatred and venom. One bearded man with fierce eyes stared at us, his face dark with fury. "You are Americans," he screamed at us. "Americans are dogs. You did this. Americans are dogs."

President Bill Clinton has allied himself with Israel in its war against "terrorism" and the Lebanese, in their grief, had not forgotten this. Israel's official expression of sorrow was rubbing salt in their wounds. "I would like to be made into a bomb and blow myself up amid the Israelis," one old man said.

As for the Hizbollah, which has repeatedly promised that Israelis will pay for their killing of Lebanese civilians, its revenge cannot be long in coming. Operation Grapes of Wrath may then turn out then to be all too aptly named.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition