Robert Fisk: Entire Lebanese family killed in Israeli attack on hospital

Published: 03 August 2006

An attack on a hospital, the killing of an entire
Lebanese family, the seizure of five men in Baalbek
and a new civilian death toll - 468 men, women and
children - marked the 22nd day of Israel's latest war
on Lebanon. 

The Israelis claimed that helicopter-borne soldiers
had seized senior Hizbollah leaders although one of
them turned out to be a local Baalbek grocer. In a
village near the city, Israeli air strikes killed the
local mayor's son and brother and five children in
their family.

The battle for Lebanon was fast moving out of control
last night. Lebanese troops abandoned many of their
checkpoints and European diplomats were warning their
colleagues that militiamen were taking over the
positions. Up to 8,000 Israeli troops were reported to
have crossed the border by last night in what was
publicised as a military advance towards the Litani
river. But far more soldiers would be needed to secure
so large an area of southern Lebanon.

The Israelis sent paratroopers to attack an
Iranian-financed hospital in Baalbek in the hope of
capturing wounded Hizbollah fighters but, after an
hour's battle, got their hands on only five men whom
the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, later called
"tasty fish". The operation suggests what Hizbollah
has all along said was the purpose of the Israeli
campaign: to swap prisoners and to exchange Hizbollah
fighters for the two Israeli soldiers who were
captured on the border on 12 July.

Hizbollah continued to fire dozens of missiles over
the border into Israel, killing one Israeli and
wounding 21, with Israeli artillery firing shells back
into Lebanon at the rate of one every two minutes. For
the first time, a Hizbollah rocket struck the West
Bank as well as the Israeli town of Beit Shean, the
longest-range missile to have been fired so far. Yet
still the West seems unable to produce an end to a war
which is clearly overwhelming both Hizbollah and the

Hizbollah obviously has far more missiles than the
Israelis believed - there is not a town in northern
Israel which is safe from their fire - and the Israeli
army apparently has no plan to defeat Hizbollah other
than the old and hopeless policy of occupying southern
Lebanon. If Hizbollah had planned this campaign months
in advance - and if the Israelis did the same - then
neither side left room for diplomacy.

The French have wisely said they will lead a
peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon only after a
ceasefire. And to be sure, they will not let this
become a Nato-led army. France already has a company
of 100 soldiers in the UN force in southern Lebanon,
whose commander is himself French, but Paris, after
watching the chaos in Iraq, has no illusions about
Western armies in the Middle East.

Outside the shattered Dar al-Hikma hospital in Baalbek
yesterday stood two burnt cars and a minivan, riddled
with bullet-holes. Hizbollah, it seems, fought the
Israelis there for more than an hour. The hospital,
which includes several British-manufactured heart
machines, was empty when the Israeli raid began and
was partly destroyed in the fighting.

The Lebanese army, which has tried to stay out of the
conflict - heaven knows what its 75,000 soldiers are
supposed to do - was attacked again by the Israelis
yesterday when they fired a missile into a car which
they claimed was carrying a Hizbollah leader. They
were wrong. The soldier inside died instantly, joining
the 11 other Lebanese troops proclaimed as "martyrs"
by the government from a logistics unit killed in an
Israeli air raid two weeks ago.

The obscene score-card for death in this latest war
now stands as follows: 508 Lebanese civilians, 46
Hizbollah guerrillas, 26 Lebanese soldiers, 36 Israeli
soldiers and 19 Israeli civilians.

In other words, Hizbollah is killing more Israeli
soldiers than civilians and the Israelis are killing
far more Lebanese civilians than they are guerrillas.
The Lebanese Red Cross has found 40 more civilian dead
in the south of the country in the past two days, many
of them with wounds suggesting they might have
survived had medical help been available. 


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