Israel's proxy army 'runs out of control'

Robert Fisk, in Shaqra, asks what price peace in southern Lebanon when mortar bombs do the talking
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The Independent Online
Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, had just left Jerusalem for home in the belief that "the chances for peace" are higher than at any time in the past 36 months, but Amal Marouni's mother did not agree.

"How do you think I feel about peace when I have carried the corpse of my own daughter?" she asked. And there, in the shady yard of her home in southern Lebanon, less than a mile from the Israeli artillery base whose mortar killed her 12-year-old daughter, there was no obvious reply.

Just outside the gate, you could still see where the proximity-fused 81mm mortar bomb exploded, two metres off the ground, tearing Amal Marouni apart as she played with her friend Maissa Ismail, 12, while waiting to visit the local Husseiniya for Shia Ashoura prayers.

"Proximity fuses are intended to cause maximum human loss of life," Commandant George Kerton of the UN Irish battalion stated bluntly as he looked at the huge gashes in the walls of the little Shaqra houses. You didn't want to know what it must have done to Amal Marouni, who, according to her mother: "always said her prayers, fasted at Ramadan and wore hijab covering". Neighbours described how she lived for a few seconds after the blast, crawling in blood across the road to their front door.

Neither the Israelis, who pay, arm and command the South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia which fired the mortar, nor the villagers of Shaqra, nor the Hizbollah militia which fired Katyusha rockets into Galilee in retaliation for Amal Marouni's death, dispute the basic facts. A mortar in the SLA's position below the Israeli frontier east of the village - DFF-30 is the UN's designation, standing for "de facto forces" - fired six bombs into Shaqra just after 7pm on 30 May; three had proximity fuses, one of these killed Amal.

True, the 20-man SLA platoon - most of them Shias like Amal but loyal to Israel's occupation army - still feign ignorance of Amal's death. Other SLA men at DFF-30 put their little fingers across their mouths, a Lebanese expression meaning that they were not allowed to talk. And Major General Amiram Levin, Israel's northern army commander was summoned to Jerusalem to explain what had happened. General Levin, according to the Israeli press, blamed the SLA unit, adding that the Israelis couldn't "control" them.

The UN and Amal's father, Mohamed Marouni, take a different point of view. The UN condemned the killing as "immoral", asked if the Israelis permitted their forces to fire such lethal bombs on to a civilian village and added that no attacks on Israeli occupation troops had taken place prior to the firing.

Mr Marouni, the local baker, said: "I don't believe for a moment that SLA men can do anything without the orders of the Israelis. Whenever there is something embarrassing, the Israelis will tell you that it was a 'mistake' by the SLA. But the SLA wouldn't fire a single bullet without Israeli orders."

The SLA, it should be added, killed a little boy with rifle fire in a nearby village two years ago almost to the day, and shelled to death two young girls in a neighbouring field four years ago. The Israeli-paid militia is now so undisciplined that only 11 days ago one of them ended an argument with comrades in an Israeli front-line position by shooting four of them dead and wounding another two before trying to kill himself.

Maissa Ismail, Amal's friend, was wounded in the 30 May bombardment and had her right leg amputated below the knee.

"There was blood everywhere when I got to the street," Mohamed Marouni said. "My wife lifted Amal up but she was dead. We thought this area was safe from shells but never thought the Israelis would use proximity fuses. Aren't they a prohibited weapon?"

Amal's mother produced a framed photograph of her daughter, chubby in a yellow scarf. "We have ten girls and one boy, but how many of us will be left by the time peace comes," Mohamed Marouni asked, a touch of rhetoric mixed in with anger. "We almost lost another daughter because Amal was holding Ahlam in her arms five minutes before the shelling. Her mother brought her home but then there was the explosion and she returned to find Amal lying in blood."

Commandant Kerton was at the funeral. "The mourners weren't angry like you'd think they would be," he said. "There was no shouting. They were silent, really stunned at what had happened."

Two days ago, four more Israeli mortar bombs were fired into Shaqra, wounding four civilians, two of them children, the younger a two-year old boy. Yesterday, presumably by way of retaliation, Hizbollah militiamen fired rockets across the border into Israel, wounding at least three people. Israel responded by attacking suspected Hizbollah positions with rockets from jets and helicopters.