Qana's horrors laid bare in a journey to hell

War in Lebanon: On the wards of the Jebel Amal hospital, the deepest wounds of all are kept out of sight
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The Independent Online
Hadil Maalala lies in her bed in the Jebel Amal Hospital, bandages swathing her stomach wounds, unaware that her mother and father and all her brothers were slaughtered around her in Israel's massacre of the Qana refugees. She doesn't cry. She says she doesn't remember what happened at Qana. "I haven't told her she has no family left," Dr Ahmed Mrouwi says quietly. "I told her that her mother and father will be coming to see her soon. Of course, it is untrue."

The bliss of ignorance cannot be bestowed upon 56-year-old Saadallah Balhas. A bandage covers the socket where his right eye was cut from his face by an Israeli shell fragment. His body is peppered with shrapnel holes. But the real wounds are far deeper. "The UN soldiers came to our village of Siddiqin before the shelling and told us we would be safer in their compound," he says. "We did as they advised us - all 23 members of my family. My wife and sons and daughters and my brothers and their children all drove in our cars to Qana and went into the compound for safety."

Even the doctors and nurses put their hands to their faces, hardened men and women who had to cope with 50 bodies and 50 wounded in the hour that followed the Israeli shelling, trying to fathom which heads fitted which corpses, which were the arms of the living and the dead. Room after room contains the surviving victims of the massacre; armless, legless, burning with passion and rage and innocence. A walk round the wards of the Jebel Amal hospital - when all the world is talking about a ceasefire - is a visit to hell.

"All our patients have pieces of shell inside them," Dr Mrouwi says. "In their chest, abdomen, neck, legs. We have many amputations. But many people reached here without hands and legs. We still have two children from the ambulance at which the Israelis fired a missile almost two weeks ago. One of them has her face burnt off. She has no eyes. The war was not against Hizbollah, as the Israelis claim. All the victims are civilians. It was their purpose to kill them." Dr Mrouwi will not discuss Israel's claim that it was an accident, a slight miscalculation in the gun trajectory when its 155mm artillery batteries responded after Hizbollah men fired two Katyusha rockets and four mortars 350 metres from the UN compound.

"The Israelis have their super-technology and they had been boasting of it all week," he says. "The wounded in my hospital cannot believe what Israel said. Ask them for yourself." And each room of pain and agony produced the same response. How could this have been a mistake? "We saw the pilotless drone over the UN compound before the shelling," Sulieman Khalil says. "They could see on television cameras where they were hitting and they went on firing even among the wounded."

In the next room, Fatmi Deeb cries. She has shrapnel wounds up her legs and a fearful cut that embraces both her lips. She is one and a half years old. Her father, a Lebanese army soldier who was on duty in Tyre when the Israelis killed the refugees of Qana, stands by her bed. "They killed my wife and my two sons and Fatmi is all I have left," he says. "What can I say to you?" As westerners, and feeling the guilt that I suppose all westerners should feel who visit this terrible place and who see the wounds inflicted by American-made shells fired from an American-made M109A1 howitzer by America's closest allies, we gently try to say some words of comfort, even apology. And Corporal Deeb looks at us and then casts his eyes upwards to show that God knows best. And we are silent.

Ahlam Khalil, a beautiful young woman of 20, lies with her head on a pillow, a blue scarf covering her long dark hair. "We all saw the drone and they knew what they were doing," she says. "I did not support the Hizbollah but I blame Israel. The Fijian soldiers told us they had told Israel there were many civilians there and that Israel would never bomb us. I was wounded by the first shell. So was my husband. He lay over our only child during the shelling and protected it from the shrapnel. Our child was saved - but he was very badly wounded."

Hadil Maalama, the girl who never cries, answers our questions monosyllabically. She says she is Iraqi and that it was "Saddam" who attacked the refugees. "Maybe her parents fled here after the Gulf War and she saw the pictures on television of the bombing of Iraq," Dr Mrouwi says. "But we have no way of knowing. There isn't a soul who knows her or anything about her family and they were all killed."

"I will be the one to have to tell her some day that all her family are dead," Dr Mrouwi says softly. "No, I don't yet know what I am going to say. I don't know the words. But if there is no one, I shall adopt her myself and bring her up with my family."

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