Robert Fisk: Israeli missiles had clearly pierced the very centre of the red cross on the roof of each ambulance

From Qlaya, Southern Lebanon 
Published: 26 July 2006

QLAYA, Southern Lebanon: The battle for Southern
Lebanon is on an epic scale but from the heights above
Khiam, the Israelis appear to be in deep trouble.
Their F-16s turn in the high bright sun - small silver
fish whose whispers gain in volume as they dive - and
their bombs burst over the old prison where the
Hezbollah are still holding out; but beyond the
frontier, I can see livid fires burning across the
Israeli hillside and the Jewish settlement of Metullah
billowing smoke.

It was not meant to be like this, 13 days into
Israel’s assault on Lebanon. The Katyushas still
streak in pairs out of Khiam, white contrails that
thump into Israel’s hillsides and border towns. So is
it frustration or revenge that also keeps Israel’s
bombs falling on the innocent? In the early hours of
yesterday morning, a tremendous explosion woke me up,
rattling the windows and shaking the trees outside and
a single flash suffused the western sky over Nabatea.
The lives of an entire family of seven had just been

And how come – since this now obsesses the
humanitarian organisations working in Lebanon – that
the Israelis bombed two ambulances in Qana, killing
two of the wounded inside and wounding the third
civilian for the second time in a day. All the crews
were injured – one with a piece of shrapnel in his
neck – but what worried the Lebanese Red Cross was
that the Israeli missiles had clearly pierced the very
centre of the red cross painted on the roof of each
vehicle. Did the pilots use the cross as their aiming

The bombardment of Khiam has set off its own
brushfires on the hillside below Qlaya, whose Maronite
Christian inhabitants now stand on the high road above
like spectators at a 19th century battle. Khiam is –
or was – a pretty village of cut stone doorways and
tracery windows but Israel’s target is the notorious
prison in which – before its retreat from Lebanon in
2000 – hundreds of Hezbollah members and in some cases
their families were held and tortured with electricity
by Israel’s proxy South Lebanon Army militia.

This was the same prison complex – turned into a
‘Museum of Torture’ by the Hezbollah after the Israeli
retreat that was visited by the late Edward Said
shortly before his death. More important, however, is
that many of the Hezbollah men originally held
prisoner here were captives in cells built deep
underground below the old French mandate fort. These
same men are now fighting the Israelis, almost
certainly sheltering from their firepower in the same
underground cells in which they once languished,
perhaps even storing some of their missiles there.

In Marjayoun next to Qlaya – once the SLA’s
headquarters – Lebanese troops are desperately trying
to prevent Hezbollah guerrillas using the streets of
the Greek Catholic town to fire yet more missiles at

Seven-man army patrols are moving through the darkened
alleyways of both towns at night in case Hezbollah
brings yet more Israel bombs down on our heads.

In war, all one’s senses are quickened. Dawn, birds,
music, flowers acquire a new meaning. A family is
still living in the little villa opposite my house and
I watched a woman at dusk, picking vegetables in her
garden for supper, ignoring the howl of Israeli
aircraft in the sky above her and the sinister changes
in air pressure from their bombs.

In Beirut, one observes the folly of western nations
with amusement as well as horror but sitting in these
hill villages and listening to how US Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice plans to reshape Lebanon is
clearly a lesson in human self-delusion.

According to American correspondents accompanying Ms
Rice on her visit to the Middle East, she is proposing
the intervention of a Nato-led force along the
Lebanese-Israeli border for between 60 and 90 days to
assure that a ceasefire exists, the deployment after
this of an enlarged Nato-led force throughout Lebanon
to ensure the disarmament of Hezbollah, and then the
retraining of the Lebanese Army before it too deploys
to the border. 

This plan – which like all American proposals on
Lebanon is exactly the same as Israel’s demands -
carries the same depth of delusional conceit as that
of the Israeli consul-general in New York who said
last week that ‘most Lebanese appreciate what we are

Does Rice think the Hezbollah want to be disarmed,
albeit it under the terms of UN Security Council
resolution 1559? By Nato? Wasn’t there a Nato force in
Beirut which fled Lebanon after a group close to the
Hezbollah bombed the US marine base at Beirut airport
in 1983, killing 241 US servicemen, and dozens more
French troops a few seconds later? Does anyone believe
that Shia Muslim forces will not do the same again to
any Nato "intervention" force. The Hezbollah have been
waiting and training and dreaming of this war for
years, however ruthless we may regard their actions.
They are not going to surrender the territory they
liberated from the Israeli Army in an 18-year
guerrilla war, least of all to Nato at Israel’s

The problem, surely, is that the United States sees
this bloodbath as an "opportunity" rather than a
tragedy, a chance to humble Hizballah’s supporters in
Tehran and help to shape the "new Middle East" of
which Rice spoke so blandly yesterday. In fact it will
more likely to prove to be Syria’s attempt to humble
Israel and the United States in Lebanon.

Of course, the Hezbollah have brought catastrophe to
their co-religionists. All the way down the Bekaa
Valley to Southern Lebanon, the long, dangerous,
bomb-cratered roads I had to travel to reach Qlaya
were deserted save for cars driven by panicking men,
crammed with families, trailing white sheets out of
the windows in the forlorn hope – after all the
Israeli air attacks on civilians – that this would
provide them with protection.

The only civilian walking these frightening roads was
a goatherd, shepherding his animals around the huge
craters. Talking to him, it emerged that he was almost
stone deaf and could not hear the bombs. In this, it
seemed, he had a lot in common with Condoleezza Rice.
– The Independent


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