Civilian Toll Mounts in Lebanon Conflict

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 24, 2006

TYRE, Lebanon, July 23 -- The day ended in Tyre as it began, with a desperate cry of grief.

"Where's my father? Where's my father?" asked Mahmoud Srour, an 8-year-old whose face was burned beyond recognition after an Israeli missile struck the family's car Sunday. His mother, Nouhad, lurched toward his hospital bed, her eyes welling with tears.

"Is he coming?" he asked her.

"Don't worry about your father," she said, her words broken by sobs.

Barely conscious, bewildered, he lay with his eyes almost swollen shut. His head lolled toward her. A whisper followed.

"Don't cry, mother," he told her.

Mahmoud's father, Mohammed, was dead. An Israeli missile had struck their green Mercedes as they fled the southern town of Mansuri, where the family had been vacationing. The boy's uncle, Darwish Mudaihli, was dead, too. The bodies were left in the burning car. Mahmoud's sister Mariam, 8 months old, lay next to him, staring at the ceiling with a Donald Duck pacifier in her mouth. Her eyes were open but lifeless, a stare that suggested having seen too much. Her hair was singed, her face slightly burned. Blisters swelled the tiny fingers on her left hand to twice their size. In other beds of Najm Hospital were their other brothers, 13-year-old Ali and 15-year-old Ahmed.

"What happened?" Ahmed shouted to no one in particular.

It was a question asked often Sunday in Tyre and its hinterland, a bloody day for civilians, even by the standards of this war. Israeli forces repeatedly struck cars on southern Lebanon's already perilous roads in attacks that victims said were indiscriminate. Seven people were killed, three of them when an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at a white minibus carrying 19 people fleeing the village of Tairi, which Israeli forces had ordered residents to evacuate. The missile tore through the roof of the vehicle as it sped around a bend in the road. Layal Najib, a 23-year-old photographer for the Lebanese magazine al-Jaras, was killed when Israeli forces struck near her taxi outside the town of Qana to the northwest. She was the first journalist killed in the 12-day conflict.

"Are there any armed men here? Is there any resistance here?" asked Ali Najm, a physician helping to treat the injured in Tyre. He surveyed the wounded, struggling to maintain the detachment of a medical professional and suppress the anger of a neighbor watching a war that he said he did not understand. "There is no aim to this," he said. "They are innocent people. They are carrying white flags, and they're trying to escape."

The day's events began at 10:30 a.m. when the Mercedes of Mahmoud's family was struck as it barreled down a coastal road dotted by palm trees and banana plantations. As it burned, Zein al-Abdin Zabit passed in his white Nissan with his wife and four sons. His drive was already frantic: Along the road from Naqoura, he had picked up someone wounded in Qlaile, trying to take him to the hospital. A few more miles, then he reached Maaliye, where he picked up two men wounded as they rode a motorcycle.

Near the hospital, a missile struck behind his car, and it caught fire. He floored it for 200 yards more, feeding the flames as he tried to make it to the hospital. Near its entrance, he crashed into a curb, and his ribs were broken. He and the others clambered out, and the gasoline tank exploded. Hours later, the car was a charred carcass. Its tires still smoldered along a row of seared palm trees.

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