Robert Fisk: Lebanon's pain grows by the hour as death toll hits 1,300

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They are digging them up by the hour, the swelling death toll of the Lebanon conflict. The American poet Carl Sandburg spoke of the dead in other wars and imagined that he was the grass under which they would be buried. "Shovel them under and let me work," he said of the dead of Ypres and Verdun. But across Lebanon, they are systematically lifting the tons of rubble of old roofs and apartment blocks and finding families below, their arms wrapped around each other in the moment of death as their homes were beaten down upon them by the Israeli air force. By last night, they had found 61 more bodies, taking the Lebanese dead of the 33-day war to almost 1,300.

In Srifa, south of the Litani river, they found 26 bodies beneath ruins which I myself stood on just three days ago. At Ainata, there were eight more bodies of civilians. A corpse was discovered beneath a collapsed four-storey house north of Tyre and, near by, the remains of a 16-year old girl, along with three children and an adult. In Khiam in eastern Lebanon, besieged by the Israelis for more than a month, the elderly village "mukhtar" was found dead in the ruins of his home.

Not all the dead were civilians. At Kfar Shuba, dumper-truck drivers found the bodies of four Hizbollah members. At Roueiss, however, all 13 bodies found in the wreckage of eight 10-storey buildings were civilians. They included seven children and a pregnant woman. Ten more bodies were disentangled from the rubble of the southern suburbs of Beirut - where local people claimed they could still hear the screams of neighbours trapped far below the bomb-smashed apartment blocks. The Lebanese civil defence organisation - almost as brave as the Lebanese Red Cross in trying to save lives under fire - believe at least three families may be trapped in basements deep below the wreckage.

Ignoring the dangers of unexploded ordnance, several Lebanese Shia Muslims returned to their destroyed homes to retrieve personal belongings - including family snapshots and albums that contain the narrative of their lives - only to fall between gaps in the broken apartment blocks and plunge dozens of feet into the darkness beneath. Among the last to die only minutes before the UN ceasefire came into effect was a child who was found in her dead mother's arms in Beirut.

How many of these dead would have survived if George Bush and Tony Blair had demanded an immediate ceasefire weeks ago will never be known. But many would have had the chance of life had Western governments not regarded this dirty war as an "opportunity" to create a "new" Middle East by humbling Iran and Syria.

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