"Israeli planes have been striking Lebanese civilians since the beginning of the war, hitting a truckload of fleeing farmers, a Lebanese photographer and a village during a funeral. Even so, Friday's strike still came as a shock: the convoy was more than 500 cars long and included a town mayor, an entire Lebanese Army unit and its own ambulance. The Israeli military said it had banned the movement of cars south of the Litani River, though the convoy was hit well north of it."
"We were promised that we would have the clearance from Israelis and the road would be cleared. Neither happened."
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
New York Times
The historic market town is in a strategic position on high ground near the Litani river and is the largest town in the south Bekaa valley
But then the missiles came. Shortly after nightfall, Israeli aircraft fired into the convoy, containing more than a thousand Lebanese villagers. The military said in a statement that it had received a request for the convoy to move, but had denied it. It said it had suspected that cars in the area contained Hezbollah guerrillas carrying weapons, and only later discovered that the cars were part of the refugee convoy.
Six people were killed and more than 30 were wounded, according to witnesses and Red Cross officials. Among the dead were a Lebanese soldier, a baker, a Red Cross worker and the wife of a mayor of one of the villages.
What followed was a scene of panic under a large yellow moon. Drivers switched off their headlights, afraid of being shot, and frantically began turning around on the narrow road, which runs between two mountains near the winemaking village of Kefraya. An ambulance worker driving with the convoy was killed trying to get to the wounded, and it was an hour before nearby emergency workers could get in to pick up the bodies.
"We saw the light and the sound of the bomb," said Ronitte Daher, a newspaper reporter from the village of Qlayah, who was traveling in the convoy with her sister. "I got out of the car and heard voices of people crying and shouting."
She did not know what to do, and switched off her lights. Someone shouted to get out of the car and run for cover. Other cars were driving in reverse. She turned her car around.
"When I was turning, I saw a dead body," she said. "I know that man. I saw his children crying and shouting, 'Please help us! Please help us!' "
Israeli planes have been striking Lebanese civilians since the beginning of the war, hitting a truckload of fleeing farmers, a Lebanese photographer and a village during a funeral. Even so, Friday's strike still came as a shock: the convoy was more than 500 cars long and included a town mayor, an entire Lebanese Army unit and its own ambulance.
The Israeli military said it had banned the movement of cars south of the Litani River, though the convoy was hit well north of it.
Crowding may have been part of the problem. The villagers had been waiting in Merj 'Uyun, a few miles south of here, since early Friday. Many had not been out of their houses since the Israelis came late last week, and they were desperate to leave.
Finally, around 4 p.m., they piled behind each other in a long bumper-to-bumper line and began moving out. The road was a mess, torn with large craters, and it took more than two hours to move several miles, according to the mayor of Merj 'Uyun , Fuad Hamra, who was in the convoy.
As soon as the cars were hit, all within about three minutes of one another, drivers farther back began hearing about it on their cellphones and many simply stopped in the dark. Some cars parked in areas that looked safe. Others, like Ms. Daher, drove to Jib Janine, a nearby town. Shortly after the attack, clumps of cars were idling in two parking lots south of Jib Jenine. People stood outside in the bright moonlight.
Ms. Daher stayed in the home of a family she had never met. They gave her water.
"I saw some people," she said. "I asked it's safe here? They said, yes, come."
Ms. Daher, a reporter for Nahar Newspaper, one of Lebanon's main newspapers, said that she tried to take photographs of the soldiers from the window of her house on Thursday, but that soldiers shot at the house when they saw her.
"They asked people not to look out the windows," she said, speaking by telephone from Beirut, where she finally arrived Saturday afternoon.
She described a frozen town, in which Israeli soldiers and Lebanese civilians were terrified of one another.
"They are afraid of any movement in the houses, so we tried to keep calm," she said. Israelis, according to Mr. Hamra and other residents, had destroyed some houses in the villages they occupied late last week, and residents did not feel safe inside their homes.
"They bombed some houses," she said. "We don't know why."
Residents were similarly baffled about the convoy. The Israelis have warned several days ago that they would strike anyone driving south of the Litani River, and reiterated that warning the statement they released Saturday about the mistaken strike. But the convoy was hit far north of the river, after the convoy had passed out of active fighting.
"Something went wrong," Mr. Hamra said by telephone from Beirut. "We were promised that we would have the clearance from Israelis and the road would be cleared. Neither happened."
"Probably the clearance wasn't cleared enough."
* * *
Israel's attack on convoy a 'mistake'
Israel admits that it was "mistaken" in attacking a convoy of hundreds of cars carrying people fleeing the fighting in southern Lebanon
(12 August 2006) - At least seven people were killed and 36 wounded when an unmanned Israeli aircraft fired on the convoy of more than 500 vehicles.
The Israeli army confirmed it had carried out an air strike on the convoy, saying it had acted on the mistaken suspicion that Hezbollah guerrillas were smuggling weapons in the vehicles.
"The attack was carried out based on a suspicion. It was found to be incorrect," an army spokeswoman said.
The Israeli army said it had not granted permission for the convoy to travel as it was too dangerous.
The attack was near the Bekaa Valley town of Chtaura, about 50km north of the Litani River below which Israel had warned it may attack any vehicle on the roads.
The Israeli army said the convoy was on a route that is often used by Hezbollah to transport weapons to the south - the convoy was heading north.
About 3,000 civilians and 350 Lebanese soldiers and policemen left the mainly Christian town of Marjayoun in the convoy a day after Israeli forces seized control of the area.
Witnesses said most of the victims were civilians.
One of the dead was a Red Cross worker who went to help people injured in the initial strikes.
* * *
UN force was to evacuate Lebanese troops as part of the convoy
Israelis captured Lebanese troops, then promised UN safe passage in refuge convoy
United Nations peacekeepers were dispatched to evacuate the 350 Lebanese soldiers and police held by Israeli forces in Marjayoun a day after Israeli soldiers swept into the southern Lebanese town
(11 August 2006) - SECURITY officials said that on Friday two armoured vehicles from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, a 2,000-member peacekeeping force deployed in southern Lebanon, headed to Marjayoun, which Israeli forces occupied on Thursday.
They will escort the Lebanese soldiers out of their barracks in a convoy that will take them into government-controlled territory further north, the Lebanese security officials said.
On Thursday, Ahmed Fatfat, the interior minister, said Israeli soldiers entered the garrison in the afternoon "and asked to share it with Lebanese troops there".
He said the soldiers refused and wanted to leave, but the Israelis stopped them.
"They [Israelis] say they are searching for heavy weapons that might endanger them or that there are resistance fighters in the barracks. But our impression is that they might have wanted to use the Marjayoun barracks as a kind of human shield," he said.
"We consider them captives," Fatfat said, adding that the government was trying to win their release.
Israel said the soldiers had been prevented from leaving for their own safety.
Lebanese and Arab media reports said that France and the US intervened to arrange for the evacuation of the Lebanese soldiers.
There are more than 1,000 Lebanese soldiers in southern Lebanon conducting security duties. But Hezbollah fighters actually control the south.
The government has pledged to send 15,000 soldiers to the border with Israel as part of a peace package to end one month of fighting and bombardment by Israel.
Israel has insisted on staying in southern Lebanon until an international force is deployed, which could take weeks or months.
* * *
Zionist tactics leading to debacle
Tehran Times Opinion Column by HASSAN HANIZADEH
(12 August 2006) - ON THURSDAY, Israeli troops adopted a new tactic in the ground war when they kidnapped a number of Lebanese civilians and UN peacekeeping forces in Marjayoun, southern Lebanon.
With fear of Hezbollah attacks rising among the Zionists, the Israeli army is using the approximately 400 civilians and peacekeeping forces as human shields.
This is a sign of the Israeli army's inability to defeat the Lebanese Islamic resistance forces using conventional means, which has obliged them to resort to the tactics of the old Zionist terrorist groups, the Stern Gang, Haganah, and the Irgun, to help them realize their objectives.
During the 1930s and 1940s, these three Zionist terrorist groups used to kidnap Palestinian women and children to use them as human shields in their confrontations with the military forces of Arab countries.
Through the use of this tactic, these terrorist organizations were able to occupy Palestinian territories, including Haifa, Safed, Nablus, and west Beit-ul-Moqaddas.
Hundreds of innocent women and children kidnapped by these terrorist gangs lost their lives in Palestine.
Now that severe defeats have been inflicted on the Zionists in southern Lebanon, Israeli forces have gone back to their old inhumane ways.
In contrast, Hezbollah forces observe all the rules of warfare and are making serious efforts to avoid harming civilians in the occupied territories.
Hezbollah could capture more Israeli soldiers for use as human shields against the bombardments of the Zionist regime in southern Lebanon, but, due to their commitment to their religious and humanitarian ideals, they have avoided adopting such a tactic.
The Israeli army's action in Marjayoun is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and the international community should be held accountable for allowing Israel to flout international law.
The Lebanese government has asked the United Nations peacekeeping forces to use their military might to free the Lebanese civilians kidnapped by Israeli soldiers. However, Hezbollah will eventually change their tactics if the current situation continues.
Military analysts say it would definitely not be too difficult for Hezbollah commandos to gain access to Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories. However, if the war spills over to these areas, more civilians would be placed in harm's way, something which Hezbollah has always avoided.
It seems that the main reason the Zionists took such drastic measures in Marjayoun is that they can no longer tolerate a war of attrition. The fact that they felt compelled to resort to such tactics is a sign of their weakness.
Indeed, the adoption of such tactics indicates that the military strength of the Zionist army is in its death throes.
Israeli troops had seized Lebanese barracks; US secretary of state implicated
Friday 11 August 2006, 2:06 Makka Time, 23:06 GMT
Israeli forces have faced heavy resistance in southern Lebanon
Israeli soldiers have occupied a Lebanese army barracks in southern Lebanon holding about 350 troops.
Two hundred Israeli soldiers, supported by two tanks, seized the barracks in the mainly Christian town of Marjayoun but a senior Lebanese officer told Aljazeera that there were now signs that they were planning to leave.
Ahmad Fatfat, the acting Lebanese interior minister, said: "It appears from the ongoing contacts, which included the US secretary of state [Condoleezza Rice] and senior French officials ... there is a big hope they will leave the barracks without harming any of the security personnel."
Earlier on Thursday, Israeli troops had searched the armoury at the barracks for rockets and other heavy weapons but left after finding none.
Referring to the Lebanese troops at the barracks, Fatfat said: "They are armed only with individual weapons because they did not have a combat mission, but essentially a humanitarian [mission] to help residents of these areas.
Israeli troops had come under heavy fire from Hezbollah rockets and mortars before entering the barracks.
They took control of the whole town for about six hours before advancing on the nearby town of Khiam.
Israeli units were holding positions around the western and southern suburbs of Khiam which has been severely damaged by previous air raids.
Aljazeera + Agencies
* * *
Red Cross: Civilian deaths unacceptable
The International Committee of the Red Cross describes the heavy civilian casualties in the Israel-Lebanon conflict as "unacceptable"
(13 August 2006) AFP - "The ICRC has repeatedly expressed its concerns about insufficient precautions taken in attacks by the parties to the armed conflict," the agency said in a statement on Sunday.
"It is unacceptable that after more than 30 days of ongoing military operations, all necessary precautions to spare civilian life and those engaged in medical work have still not been taken."
The humanitarian agency highlighted an Israeli air strike on hundreds of people fleeing the area of Marajayoun by car, which killed at least six and wounded 32 on August 11.
Mikhael Jbayleh, a Lebanese Red Cross volunteer, was killed in the raid while trying to give first aid to a wounded person, it said.
Two other Lebanese Red Cross volunteers were injured when their ambulance was hit by "two projectiles" east of Tyre, although no fighting was taking place nearby, the statement said. The source of the projectiles was not identified.
"The ICRC deplores the heavy impact of hostilities on civilians and on Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) emergency medical personnel and assets."
It also deplored "the continuing lack of respect for the rules governing the conduct of hostilities, such as the distinction between military objectives and civilian persons and objects".
The Israeli military has banned the movement of all vehicles in the region south of the Litani River, including near Tyre, warning they will be considered to be supporting the Shia Muslim militia Hezbollah and attacked.
Only Red Cross and UN vehicles are exempted, but still need prior authorisation from the Israelis to travel.
Roland Huguenin, the head of the ICRC's office in the embattled city of Tyre, said in a newspaper interview on Sunday that the air strikes were also affecting attempts to rescue civilians buried under bombed buildings.
"The Israeli air force is shooting at all vehicles except those of the ICRC," Huguenin told the Swiss newspaper Le Matin.
"As a result, when a building collapses, machines such as diggers cannot intervene to lift concrete blocks and save the people stuck in the ruins."
Although voices could be heard, rescuers could not bring in digging equipment to break through the ruins.
"I don't see in what way the outcome of the conflict could be changed by allowing rescuers to get civilians out of the ruins," he commented.
Alongside its role as a relief agency, the ICRC is also the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee protection for civilians and the wounded in conflicts.
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