Blitzed Lebanese look for reason in the rubble: As refugees return to their shattered homes, Israel argues that the death and destruction could speed the Middle East peace process

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The Independent Online
THE Israelis blasted Fatima Karambash's old Levantine home to pieces with a tank shell. They bombed Mohamed Harb's home and clothing store into a pancake of concrete scarcely 5ft in height. They used a helicopter-fired missile to devastate the Nabatiyeh home of Ahmed and Almaza Bitar. An Israeli Cobra gunship even fired a rocket into the Hizbollah 'martyrs' cemetery' in Jibsheet, scoring a direct hit on the grave of the fiercely anti-Israeli Sheikh Ragheb Harb, the Shia prelate murdered here in 1983.

In the rubble and dust yesterday, amid the rotting carcases of cows and donkeys and the massive grey craters torn into the roads and fields by fighter bombers, it was possible at last to measure the extent of Israel's ferocious seven-day bombardment of southern Lebanon. To measure, too, the effectiveness of the Israeli-Syrian-Iranian- Hizbollah 'understanding' that Israel claims will protect it in the future.

But in Jibsheet and Nabatiyeh and the other towns and villages that suffered Israel's violence, and among the tens of thousands of refugees to jam the coast road home, there was not much understanding. Even the Hizbollah, who were back on the streets of Jibsheet with their two-way radios, could not fathom why Israel had blitzed Lebanon for a week and then agreed to a ceasefire without any result save for the heightened fury of those who must one day be their neighbours.

Jibsheet was selected for vengeance, no doubt, because it has always led the resistance to Israeli rule in southern Lebanon; its martyrs' cemetery is crammed with men and women who died opposing Israel's occupation. But the targets were as promiscuous as the Katyusha rockets which Hizbollah fired into Israel this week. Mohamed Harb - no relation to the dead imam - had no militia connections. 'They bombed everything - they didn't care who,' he said yesterday, as he tugged pairs of shredded jeans from the flattened concrete of his store.

In the Haya Bayad district of Nabatiyeh, Fatima Karambash showed me round her home, its roof torn off, its walls cracked, her dead cow in the byre, a broken-necked goat in the yard, her furniture turned into firewood. 'This is a middle-class area, there never were guerrillas here. Israel and the Americans did this - they are both to blame.'

Almaza Bitar smiled in a dazed, broken way as she showed me her half-gutted home next door. 'Why do the Americans allow this to happen?' she asked, pointing to the massive casing of a missile in what was her living room. Much of the ordnance fragments scattered around southern Lebanon bear marks of American manufacture.

True, there were a few Hizbollah targets. Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid's home received a direct hit from a missile, although the Israelis were presumably gunning for his wife and three children - after all, they kidnapped the Sheikh in 1989 and still hold him in the Ashkalon prison in Israel.

And the homes of two Hizbollah members were devastated in Sultaniyeh. On the highway yesterday I also counted the coffins of four Hizbollah 'martyrs' en route for burial in their southern villages, presumably killed in Israeli air raids on the Bekaa valley. And in Jibsheet yesterday morning, a company of Lebanese government troops arrived, in armoured personnel carriers, prompting the Hizbollah men to hide their two-way radios deeper in their pockets.

Were the army here to 'control' Hizbollah despite the Lebanese prime minister's assurance that they would not be disarmed? It did not look like it. The soldiers nodded cheerfully at the unsmiling young men from the village and allowed a Hizbollah 'victory' parade - a hollow enough event - to march through Jibsheet. Even as we wandered through the wreckage of the village, Israel's proxy South Lebanon Army militia were fighting off another guerrilla attack scarcely three miles away.

Many of the Hizbollah, it is now clear, never left their villages when they were under air attack. They stayed on in cellars and basements, presumably waiting for the Israeli ground troops who never came. Their weapons are not being collected and they are still free, they say, to attack Israelis inside the Israeli-occupied zone of southern Lebanon. Katyusha attacks on Israel are forbidden - but not if the Israelis fire at Lebanese villages again. If the Israelis do attack, then the Katyushas will be sent off to Galilee once more.

Six miles away, on the other side of the border, the Israelis were yesterday announcing the total success of their bombardment, but in Lebanon there was just more hatred than there had been a week ago. Plus, of course, more than 126 dead and a thousand or so homes destroyed. And a Lebanese prime minister not known for his loquacity who summed up the Israeli achievements as 'Zero'.

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