More Light unto the Nations

July 22, 2006

In News

Srifa was a bustling hillside village. Then yesterday the Israeli jets came
Clancy Chassay outside Srifa

Aliyah, 30, lay on a life support machine in the Jabal Amal hospital in a coma. She was one of a handful of survivors who made it out of Srifa, a village in south-east Lebanon. The man treating her put her chances of survival at less than 20%. “She has severe injuries and has lost a lot of blood,” he said.

Fatima Ali Ashma was more fortunate, but not much more. She lay on a hospital bed struggling to breathe.

The force of the blast which overturned the mini van she was fleeing in crushed her chest, damaging her lungs. She sustained severe injuries to her neck and arm.

Speaking slowly and with difficulty, she described what had happened to her. “In the morning we woke up to find that 10 people in the village had been killed. The authorities told us that if we could leave we should get out. So we got in the car and left. As we were leaving, they bombed the road in front of us.” There were 10 people in the van with Fatima: all were wounded. “No ambulance could get through. Everyone who could has left Srifa, but the dead bodies are still in the houses.”

The attack destroyed 15 houses, killed at least 17, and wounded at least 30. It happened on a day in which 63 people were killed in the bloodiest day of the Middle East conflict so far.

Srifa sits on a hillside overlooking a coastal plain that leads down to a sandy bay which ends with the white cliffs of Naqora and the border with Israel. It was a local beauty spot, where tourists came to see turtles lay their eggs. But it is also in the Hizbullah heartland from which rockets been fired into Israel.

Yesterday, plumes of smoke could be seen rising from its red-tiled rooftops, outlined on the horizon, as the Israelis flattened it. “There was a massacre in Srifa,” its mayor, Afif Najdi, told Reuters.

At the hospital in Tyre, 10 miles from Srifa, Dr Ahmad Mrouwe hung up the phone and put his head in his hands. He had just heard that his colleague, Said, had been killed in one of many Israeli strikes on southern Lebanon that day.

Said had braved the dangerous journey to the village of Aitaroun on the Lebanon-Israeli border to rescue his wife, mother, and two children, who were trapped in the thick of the fighting between Israeli forces and Hizbullah militants. The family had made it all the way to Horsh – 10 minutes from the hospital – when an Israeli missile blew their car apart.

In the hospital waiting room sat Ayas Jouman, whose wife Ayran and two daughters, Sanine and Alice, aged six and two, had been killed the previous day. Ayas had been talking with his wife only 15 minutes earlier; she told him she had just bought him a new shirt.

Dr Mrouwe was doing his best to direct his beleaguered staff. He said the death toll from Srifa may be even higher, perhaps 21, all buried underneath the rubble of their homes.

Silah, a nearby village, had also been hit. “They have been calling us to help them. They have five persons killed, but we cannot move them because it is still under heavy shelling,” said Dr Mrouwe. “They have eight wounded, and no one can reach there to help them. I think all the wounded there will die.”

Despite the hospital’s frantic atmosphere, Dr Mrouwe said the number of casualties arriving had dropped significantly. “Cars can’t reach here: there’s no way of leaving the southern areas.”

The last person to arrive at the hospital had been wounded eight hours before – that was the amount of time it took to cover the journey from her village of Qana. Normally it would take 20 minutes. “She had to change cars many times to get through the destroyed roads,” said Dr Mrouwe.

He said the hospital had about 15 days of medical supplies but only five days of food and water. “We are trying to bring supplies from Beirut, but it’s impossible.” As he spoke an ambulance screamed into the hospital. One after another, four bloodied bodies were rushed into operating theatres.

Twenty-two-year-old Jihad sat down and tried to come terms with what had just happened. “No pictures,” he muttered through his tears. He had been fleeing his village, Bughrel, north of Tyre, when a bomb exploded 15 metres in front of the car in which he and his family were travelling, flipping the vehicle and sending shrapnel spinning through it. Seconds later. an Israeli F16 dropped a bomb onto the road behind him, sending another car hurtling into a nearby shopfront.

He had been told by the village authorities to try to get out, and, like so many others, had hoped he could make it to a safe place unhurt.

As he sat in the chair, his hands shaking, he watched as doctors across the hall operated on his 14-year-old sister. He put his head back and stared at the ceiling, tears running down his face.