What price the truth of Awla's death?

It all seemed clear-cut when a baby girl died in what was assumed to be Israeli shellfire, writes Robert Fisk in Kafra, Lebanon. But was it?

Awla Zein is dead - but what price the truth of how she met her end? Her tiny grave lies in the cemetery, her father so badly wounded that no one dares tell him his 14-month-old daughter is dead. On the floor of the family's two-storey home at Kafra - a dirt-poor south Lebanon village on the very edge of Israel's occupation zone - splashes of Awla's blood can still be seen. Shrapnel marks from the explosion which killed her are slashed into the ceiling and the doors of a steel clothes cupboard. "Fourteen-month-old baby girl among the victims of Israeli bombardment," one of the Beirut papers proclaimed after Awla Zein died of her wounds a week ago.

It seemed an open and shut case. Israeli artillery regularly kills civilians in southern Lebanon - a middle-aged man was cut down by a shell the same day and more than 100 civilians, including women and children, were slaughtered in a 1993 Israeli bombardment after Hizbollah gunmen killed eight Israeli occupation troops.

But the UN, whose Nepalese peace-keepers patrol Kafra, and even some Lebanese journalists, seemed less certain about the cause of Awla Zein's death. For once, they were more circumspect about blaming the Israelis - who denied they had fired shells at the Zein household. UN soldiers claimed they heard no shellfire, although they agreed they saw Awla's uncle Ibrahim driving her and his brother to Tibnin hospital on 3 May.

Three houses away, at 8.30pm, Sabah Ibadi was watching the news on Lebanese television when she says she heard three or four shells exploding. "There are shells falling around our houses almost every day - when the resistance attack the Israelis, they shoot back at us. Then I heard and ran out of the house and saw Awla's mother Hesn in tears and I knew something had happened. When I saw the little girl, I said to myself, 'She hasn't got a chance,' because she was hit in the stomach. There was blood everywhere. Her father Hassan was hit in the leg."

Awla was the Zeins' only child, a plump baby whose photograph is now hidden from her hysterical mother. Ibrahim and his wife and two children lived in the same house. "The rocket was fired from that Israeli position on the hill," he said, pointing to one of five artillery bases in this sector of southern Lebanon. "Hassan wanted to watch the television news and was putting Awla to sleep on the family bed below the clothes cupboard when the Israelis fired a rocket at the house." Ibrahim Zein, the walls of whose home are decorated with a Hizbollah calendar and portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini and the assassinated leader of the Hizbollah, Sayed Abbas Moussawi, has already repaired the window through which he says the rocket entered the room.

Oddly, however, the glass in the window has not been smashed, save for a tiny hole through which a piece of metal apparently penetrated. And although Ibrahim Zein says the rocket exploded on the window frame and ricocheted into the bedroom, the shrapnel marks suggest that the detonation took place on the floor of the room, in the far corner below the bed. The remains of the Israeli missile - if that is what it was - had been given, Ibrahim Zein said, to the Lebanese army and to the Council of Southern Lebanon, which pays out compensation to Lebanese families who lose a relative to Israeli gunfire.

What troubles the Nepalese UN troops, however, is that no gunfire preceded what one of them called a "muffled explosion" in the Zein household. Ibrahim Zein drove Awla and her father through their checkpoint as Hesn came screaming down the road, pleading for help in Arabic - which the UN soldiers did not understand. So a rather different account of Awla's death began to go the rounds in Kafra. On the floor of Hassan's bedroom, so the story went, there was some kind of firearm, a rocket or an old grenade. Awla had wandered into the bedroom, found the grenade and pulled the pin. Hassan had tried to shield her from the blast but the grenade exploded, tearing off part of his leg and much of Awla's stomach.

"The Lebanese army looked at the shrapnel and said it was a grenade or some small explosive," a local Lebanese said. "But the family have got recognition that the Israelis killed Awla with a rocket. That means the Council of Southern Lebanon will give them $14,000 (£8,860) in compensation. That's a lot of money round here." Needless to say, Awla has been added to the official list of Lebanese civilians killed by Israel. As usual in southern Lebanon, it seems, the price of truth is high.

Suggested Topics
Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
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
Latest stories from i100
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

Senior BI Engineer (BI/MI, Data Mining)

£60000 - £65000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior BI Enginee...

Retail Promotions Manager – TV and Film Catalogue

Up to £171 PAYE per day (equal to 40 – 45K ) : Sauce Recruitment: This is a te...

Nursery Nurse

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Nursery Nurse Level 3 or above Ear...

Special Needs teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Need teachers required t...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on