Robert Fisk: Crocodile tears of leaders as city burns

Published: 08 August 2006

Shortly after 4am, the fly-like buzz of an Israeli
drone came out of the sky over my home. Coded MK by
the manufacturers, Lebanese mothers have sought to
lessen their children's fears of this ominous creature
by transliterating it as "Um Kamel", the Mother of
Kamel. It is looking for targets and at night, like
all the massacres being perpetrated by the Israeli air
force across southern Lebanon, you usually cannot see

The latest model can even fire missiles. Well, it flew
around for a few minutes before it moved south-west
over the city in search of other prey. Then an hour
later came the hiss of jets and five massive blasts as
the southern suburbs received their 29th air raid. The
Israelis must be convinced that beneath the rubble of
their previous strikes, the Hizbollah have secret
bunkers to direct their war in the south, that
Hizbollah's television station - its four-storey
headquarters a pancaked pile of rubble - must be
staying on air because it has ever-deeper studios
beneath the debris. I doubt it.

After dawn, I drive out to see friends in the suburbs,
among the few Shias not to have abandoned their homes.
Hassan and Abbas live in two decaying blocks of
chipped stone stairs and damp walls; each lives with
only two other families in these rotting eight-storey
tenements, their neighbours having sought refuge with
Lebanon's 700,000 internal refugees - another 200,000
have fled abroad - in the Druze Chouf mountains or the
Christian mountains to the north or in Beirut's slum
parks and crowded schools.

"I don't have any other place to go," Hassan tells me
mournfully as his two-year-old plays tug of war with a
toy Pink Panther. "In the Chouf now, a two-room flat
costs $800." Well, the Druze are certainly making
money, I say to myself. "Nobody is coming to our help"

We glower at Al Manar, Hizbollah's TV station, in the
corner of the room, whose Hizbollah announcer is
proclaiming the merits - and demerits - of the Arab
foreign ministers meeting to start shortly in Beirut.
These wealthy princes and emirs of the Gulf and the
utterly boring Amr Moussa of Egypt roared and strutted
upon the stage, remaining silent only when Fouad
Siniora - Lebanon's sweet Prime Minister - went
through another of his public weeping sessions and
demanded an immediate ceasefire. Lebanon's proposals
must be added to the UN draft resolution, he said
between sobs, sniffles and whimpers. Shebaa Farms must
be returned to Lebanon. The Israelis must leave
Lebanon. Only then can Hizbollah abide by UN Security
Council resolution 1559 and lay down its arms.

The ministers decided to send a delegation to the UN
in New York - which will have Washington shaking in
its boots - and the Saudis agreed to an Arab summit in
Mecca, but one which should not be rushed because it
must be carefully prepared - which sounded very like
George W Bush's equally mendacious remark that a
ceasefire had to be carefully prepared. And that will
have them shaking in the shoes in Tel Aviv.

It was preposterous, scandalous, shameful to listen to
these robed apparatchiks - most of them are paid,
armed or otherwise supported by the West - shed their
crocodile tears before a nation on its knees. The
Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, had
already said in Cairo that the Beirut meeting "is a
clear message to the world to demonstrate Arab
solidarity with the Lebanese people". In the southern
suburbs - where they do not take this nonsense
seriously - Abbas was telling me of a female neighbour
who had supported the rival Shia Amal movement until
her house was destroyed by the Israelis. "She told us,
'We are all Hizbollahi now'," And I recall that less
than three years ago, we - we Westerners, we brave
believers in human rights - were saying that we were
all New Yorkers now.

What sent Fouad Sinioura into his bout of crying was a
report that 40 Lebanese civilians had been massacred
in the village of Houla by an Israeli air strike - 18
people were confirmed buried in one house. Two other
buildings in the village collapsed. Yet there are far
more terrible fears that hundreds more may lay dead in
the ruins of their homes after the Israelis had
blasted their villages, hill towns and hamlets.

According to the UN, 22,000 Lebanese are still - dead
or alive - in the 38 most southern villages, out of an
original population of 913,000. In Mays al-Jabal, for
example, 400 civilians are believed to have stayed out
of 10,000, though no one knows their fate. The
Lebanese death toll - including the conservative
figure for Houla - is 932, almost all civilians,
although it may well have reached more than 1,000.
There are 3,293 wounded.

At lunchtime, I paid a call on Suheil Natour, a
Palestinian official in the little Mar Elias camp. His
people - the Palestinians and their descendants of the
1948 flight from Palestine - are now hosting thousands
of Shia refugees from southern Lebanon, just as those
refugees' grandparents once hosted the Palestinians of
1948. This irony is not lost on Natour who points out
that the Shias - the largest single community in
Lebanon - are now spread over all the country after
their flight. "What kind of Lebanon will emerge from
this?" he asks me. "How many months have to pass
before the Shias feel they belong to the areas of
Lebanon to which they have fled - rather than to the
wreckage of the homes they were forced out of by the

And when I go home, I find my landlord has treble
locked the iron front door of my apartment block, just
in case the refugees decide that they belong to his
building - or that his building belongs to them.

Day 27

* Israeli attacks kill at least 45 people in Lebanon,
mostly in eastern Bekaa Valley and border village of
Houla. Five die in strike on crowded area in
Shi'ite-dominated south Beirut. Israeli aircraft also
hit last coastal crossing on Litani river between
Sidon and Tyre.

* UN Security Council vote on a resolution to end
conflict is delayed until tomorrow after Arab nations
object to draft.

* Three Israeli soldiers are killed in battles with
guerrillas in southern Lebanon. Hizbollah guerrillas
fire rockets into northern Israel, wounding one.

* Lebanese health minister Mohammad Khalifeh says
conflict has killed 925 people. About one-third of the
dead have been children under the age of 13. 


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