July 26, 2006
THE MIDEAST CRISIS
Civilians bear fear, injuries, death, grief
Fleeing families, ambulances hit in rocket attacks
By KATHY GANNON
TYRE, Lebanon — Dirty bandages hid the worst of 8-year-old Zainab Jawad’s swollen, bloodied nose Monday. Her arm, fractured in two places, was strapped to her chest.
Stretched out on a bed at Najem Hospital, Zainab squeezed her brown eyes shut as memories of the attack flooded back, some of her words muffled as she fought sobs.
A day earlier, Israeli bombs destroyed her family’s home in the southern village of Ayta Chaeb. Then rockets slammed into the family’s car as they fled.
“I don’t want to remember, but I can’t help it. What I remember most is the sound, the sound of the planes, and I was scared because I thought there were so many. I fell asleep last night, but all I could hear in my sleep were planes.”
Zainab’s aunt was in the next bed. Her mother, Usra Jawad, and 4-year-old brother, Mohammed, were across the hall. Mohammed’s eyes fluttered as he slipped in and out of consciousness; his leg was in a cast to his hip. His mother’s leg was in traction, with steel pins in several places.
The week before, Usra Jawad’s three sisters visited her village to see the new family home. When the bombing started, the four sisters fled in a car with the two children, hoping to reach their parents’ home north of Tyre.
But rockets hit their car. Two of the sisters, both teachers, were killed.
“Now I have no house. My sisters are dead,” Usra Jawad said. “I can’t do anything.”
Jawad Najem, a surgeon at the hospital, said patients admitted Sunday had burns from phosphorous incendiary weapons used by Israel. The Geneva Conventions ban using white phosphorus as an incendiary weapon against civilian populations and in air attacks against military forces in civilian areas. Israel said its weapons comply with international law.
“Mahmoud Sarour, 14, was admitted to the hospital yesterday and treated for phosphorous burns to his face,” Najem said. Mahmoud’s 8-month-old sister, Maryam, suffered similar burns on her neck and hands when an Israeli rocket hit the family car.
The children were with their father, mother and other relatives when the car was hit by an Israeli missile. Their father died instantly.
The Sarour family was evacuated from Tyre to Cyprus on Monday aboard a ferry chartered by Germany.
The Sarours had to go to the port by taxi because the Lebanese Red Cross suspended operations outside Tyre after Israeli jets blasted two ambulances with rockets, said Ali Deebe, a Red Cross spokesman in Tyre.
In the incident Sunday, one Red Cross ambulance went south of Tyre to meet an ambulance and transfer the wounded to the hospital.
“When we have wounded outside the city, we always used two ambulances,” Deebe said.
The rocket attack on the two vehicles wounded six ambulance workers and three civilians — an 11-year-old boy, an elderly woman and a man, Deebe said.
“One of the rockets hit right in the middle of the big red cross that was painted on top of the ambulance,” he said. “This is a clear violation of humanitarian law, of international law. We are neutral, and we should not be targeted.”
Kassem Shalan, one of the ambulance workers, told AP Television News nine people were injured. “We were transferring the wounded into our vehicle and something fell, and I dropped to the floor,” he said.
Amateur video provided by an ambulance worker confirmed Deebe’s account of damage to the vehicles, showing one large hole and several smaller ones in the roof of one ambulance and a large hole in the roof of the second. Both were destroyed.
The Israeli military said it was investigating the incident.
Israeli rockets have been hitting around Najem Hospital for most of the past two weeks, nursing director Inaya Haydar said. “I don’t sleep very much at night, sometimes two hours; sometimes I don’t sleep at all.”
Six members of Haydar’s family were killed three days ago in Srifa, her home village southeast of Tyre.
Before the Israeli assault began July 12 in response to Hezbollah militants’ capturing two Israeli soldiers, Haydar commuted 30 minutes a day to her village. Since the bombardment began, she has not left the hospital.
Haydar’s parents and younger sister have fled to the mountains north of Tyre. Her fiance, a Lebanese studying engineering in Sweden, wants Haydar to leave, as well.
“At midnight last night he called me and said: ‘Please leave there and come to Sweden.’ But I can’t. If I leave … then who is left here in the hospital to help our people and our country. I am Lebanese, this is my country. I love my country. I should stay.”
She gestured toward another hospital room by way of explanation. Inside lay a day-old infant in an incubator. The baby was born in Tibnin, south of Tyre; his mother stayed home because she was too ill to travel after a Caesarean delivery.
“He was two hours old when he came and so sick,” Haydar said. “They had to get him here quickly. If we were not here, who would help him?”