SIDON, Lebanon — The Israeli attack on Qana has taken the biggest toll of the war, but it is only one of countless lethal attacks on civilians in Lebanon.
Large numbers fled the south after Israelis dropped leaflets warning of attacks. Others have been unable to leave, often because they have not found the means. The Israelis have taken that to mean that they are therefore Hezbollah.
Israeli justice minister Haim Ramon announced on Israeli army radio Thursday that “all those in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah.”
Justifying the collective punishment of people in southern Lebanon, Ramon added, “In order to prevent casualties among Israeli soldiers battling Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon, villages should be flattened by the Israeli air force before ground troops move in.”
This policy explains the large number of wounded in the hospitals of Sidon in the south..
Wounded people from southern Lebanon narrate countless instances of indiscriminate attacks by the Israeli military.
Thirty-six-year-old Khuder Gazali, an ambulance driver whose arm was blown off by an Israeli rocket, told IPS that his ambulance was hit while trying to rescue civilians whose home had just been bombed.
“Last Sunday people came to us and asked us to go help some people after their home was bombed by the Israelis,” he said from his bed in Hamoudi Hospital in Sidon, the largest in southern Lebanon. “We found one of them, without his legs, lying in a garden, so we tried to take him to the nearest hospital.”
On way to the hospital an Israeli Apache helicopter hit his ambulance with a rocket, severely injuring him and the four people in the back of the vehicle, he said.
“So then another ambulance tried to reach us to rescue us, but it too was bombed by an Apache, killing everyone inside it,” he said. “Then it was a third ambulance which finally managed to rescue us.”
Khuder, who had shrapnel wounds all over his body, said “this is a crime, and I want people in the west to know the Israelis do not differentiate between innocent people and fighters. They are committing acts of evil.. They are attacking civilians, and they are criminals.”
At Labib Medical Centre in Sidon, countless survivors of Israeli bombardment had similar stories to tell.
Sixteen-year-old Ibrahim al-Hama told IPS that he and his friends were hit by an Israeli bomb while they were swimming in a river near a village north of Tyre.
“Two of my friends were killed, along with a woman,” said al-Hama. “Why did they bomb us?”
In an adjacent room, a man whose wife and two small children were recovering from wounds suffered in Israeli bombing told IPS that they had left their village near the border because the bombings had become fierce, and the Israeli military had dropped leaflets ordering them to leave.
“We ran out of food, and the children were hungry, so they left with my wife and her sister in a car which followed a Red Crescent ambulance, while another car took the two other sisters of my wife,” he said. “They reached Kafra village, and an F-16 bombed the car with my wife’s two sisters. They are dead.”
Such killings have been common throughout the south.
On July 23, a family left their village after Israelis dropped leaflets ordering them out. Their car carried a white flag, but was still bombed by an Israeli plane. Three in the car were killed.
The same day, three of 19 passengers in a van heading away from the southern village Tiri were killed when it was bombed by an Israeli plane.
A 43-year-old man from Durish Zhair village south of Tyre lay at the Labib Medical Centre with multiple shrapnel wounds and half his body blackened by fire.
“Please tell them to stop using white phosphorous,” he said. “The Israelis must stop these attacks. Do not allow the Israelis to continue murdering us.” He and his family were bombed in their home.
Zhair said his family were scattered in hospitals and refugee centres in Sidon and Beirut. But in the hospital hallway outside his room, head nurse of the hospital Gemma Sayer said “all of his family is dead. We cannot tell him yet because he is so badly injured.”
United Nations forces have been targeted again by the Israelis. Two soldiers with the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon were wounded after their observation post was damaged in an Israeli air strike.
Last week, an Israeli missile killed four UN observers; an attack that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described as “apparently deliberate.”
Thousands of angry protestors stormed the UN building in Beirut Sunday after at least 34 children and 20 adults were killed inside a shelter targeted by an Israeli air strike in the southern town Qana.
As Israeli military drones buzzed over the capital city, smoke was seen rising from the building as UN troops struggled to control the crowds.
Efforts to evacuate the wounded in Qana have been hindered because roads around the town have been destroyed by air strikes.
The Israeli military refused to take responsibility for the Qana deaths, because they said Hezbollah had used the village to launch rockets.
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud told reporters Sunday that the Qana attack was a “disgrace” and that there was no chance for peace talks until an immediate ceasefire was called. “Israel’s leaders think of nothing but destruction, they do not think of peace.”
Prime Minister Fuad Siniora described the bombing in Qana as a “war crime.” At least 600 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 51 Israelis have been killed since the conflict began.