Robert Fisk: ‘We ran up to the roof. That was when the second missile killed Loulou’: Lebanon is counting the cost in human lives of the Syrian conflict

Village after Shia village had hung photos of men who went to fight for Qusayr two weeks ago

Share
Related Topics

Loulou Awad’s blood still stained the concrete of her broken home, the latest Lebanese innocent to pay the price of Syria’s war. Her almost equally broken father Abdullah pressed the hands of his grieving family and their friends, thanking them for sharing his grief at the loss of his daughter. He was 60 and now looked 100. She was only 20, a Shia Muslim in a Shia town, a student with little reason to expect death on the rooftop of the villa high in the hills above Hermel. But far away to the north-east, a rime of brown, flat smoke hung over a distant Syrian city called Qusayr. That is where death probably came from.

“We were eating dinner downstairs at about 8.15 when a missile hit some land close to us,” Abdullah said, speaking with great care so that we should understand the nature of his tragedy. “Well, we all ran up to the roof to see the explosion and the smoke. We were all there, and that’s when the second missile came in and hit the roof and it killed Loulou.” The black-dressed neighbours clucked their tongues at this terrible little story. A cousin muttered that he thought Lebanon was closer to civil war. I said I doubted it. “You are wrong,” he replied. “This missile came from Arsal over there. They have a different religion there.”

Probably not. No one I met in Arsal heard any rocket fired from their town. But there are corpses aplenty in the Bekaa valley these days: dozens of them – at least 110 dead in the past 10 days alone, according to the most reliable Hezbollah supporter in Baalbek – for these are the “martyrs” of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s new campaign to help the Syrian regime re-take Qusayr from the rebels.

Village after Shia village I passed through north of Baalbek had hung brand new yellow-framed photographs of the men who set off for Qusayr less than two weeks ago to win another war against Israel – or so Mr Nasrallah would have us all believe.

Black-bearded Abbas Ali Muqdad  had been brought home to Maqne. Mohamed Fouad Rabah, a cloth wound round his head, smiling broadly in that deadly picture came back to Jdeideh; al-Haj Mohamed Abbas Younis returned dead to Talia. Ali Haj Majed Dendash was buried in Hermel itself. And speeding past my car in the Bekaa, sirens howling, went the four-car funeral convoy – smoked glass windows, yellow Hezbollah banners floating from the roofs – of Hanni Mohamed Nasser. I glimpsed his “last” portrait on the back window of the fourth car. Grim-faced I thought.

Come to think of it, that made 111 Hezbollah dead in 10 days, a fearful casualty toll for the Lebanese Shia militia which drove the Israelis out of Lebanon in 2000 and fought them to a standstill in 2006. And all at the hands, it seems, of the men they call “terrorists” – the anti-Assad rebels who are still clinging to parts of Qusayr and probably also killed Loulou Awad. Hundreds of Hezbollah wounded have poured back across the border, nine of them taken to Baalbek hospital on Monday night alone.

Two thousand men left Lebanon for the great battle in Syria, I was told in Baalbek. So if these figures are true, that’s more than 5 per cent Hezbollah fatalities in less than a week and a half.

But come back now to Arsal, just 20 miles from Hermel, the place where the people have a “different religion”. They don’t, of course. They are Sunni – not Shia – Muslims who live in this rough hill village of car workshops, cheap vegetable markets and young men who have a habit of wearing military trousers. The Lebanese here support the Sunni rebels – the Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra (Front for Victory) and the Free Syrian Army – and they pray for the downfall of Bashar al-Assad. Nor are they happy with the Lebanese army which tries to prevent them sending weapons across the border to their rebel Sunni Muslim allies. And this led to another tragedy: the death of three Lebanese soldiers, as innocent in their way as Loulou Awad.

“Local” people, as we call them – the lynchpin of rumour, falsehood and wisdom in equal measure – all agreed that “local” Sunni Muslim gunmen, supposedly belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra, pulled up in a car at a Lebanese army checkpoint on the road north of the town just after three in the morning. There appears to have been a firefight in which the three soldiers were killed. But of course, no soldier would talk to us there. Several were draped in bandoliers of machine-gun bullets and all looked very, very angry.

For this is not the first time soldiers have been killed around this scruffy, some might say Salafist town. Nor have soldiers been the only casualties. Six weeks ago a young man called Khaled Humaide is said to have been shot here by the army and – so they say in Arsal – the gunmen in the car were his relatives. A revenge killing then? Perhaps. But male residents of this town have been infuriated by the Lebanese government. Why, they have been asking, was the government ready to prevent them helping opponents of Assad – who probably killed Loulou Awad – while allowing Assad’s allies to cross the border to help him?

Which is why they hate Hezbollah, which besieges Hermel, just over the hills to the north-west. As I chatted to the grieving relatives outside Loulou Awad’s home, another missile exploded in the centre of town – and by the time I reached the smoke and fire, there must have been 100 Hezbollah fighters in the streets, black-uniformed, some of them, camouflage-uniformed others, two-way radios and FN rifles in their arms. I must have been arrested by Hezbollah seven times in half an hour as I prowled the streets looking for the building hit by the explosion. These men were sweating and shouting and they were also very, very angry. Nor was a single Lebanese soldier to be seen.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The landslide vote for gay marriage takes Irish society further away from the Vatican  

Ireland gay marriage: Church's decision not to lead No campaign recognised remarkable new reality

Paul Vallely
New SNP MP Mhairi Black distinguished herself in Westminster straight away when she made herself a chip butty in the canteen  

The SNP adventure arrives in Westminister - but how long before these new MPs go native?

Katy Guest
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?