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Civilian Toll Mounts in Lebanon Conflict
At Hospitals in Tyre, Cries Go Up Among Wounded for Slain Loved Ones

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 24, 2006; A01

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.

"It's nothing more than revenge, revenge on civilians," Zabit said from his bed.

The hospital was in chaos. Someone with a fire extinguisher tried to put out the flames incinerating Zabit's car as other cars barreled past, fleeing the south. Mahmoud was carried in, cradled in someone's arms. Knots of women sobbed. Then the victims of the minibus arrived from near the town of Kafra. Gurney after gurney entered. One boy's left hand was shredded by shrapnel. A woman sat in a chair, dazed, as others tried to ask her questions. A stretcher smashed into a row of chairs.

"We didn't feel anything. We didn't see anything coming down," said Ali Shaita, a stocky 14-year-old, whose uncle, Mohammed, and grandmother, Nazira, were killed in the attack on the minibus. "It just hit us," said his 12-year-old brother, Abbas.

Ali sat in a bed at Najm Hospital, holding his IV. He was wounded in his chest and left leg. Blood, his and that of his relatives, drenched his red shorts. His brother was hurt in his right leg, head and right arm. His jeans were splotched with more blood. In another room, their mother, Muntaha, sobbed. Her head was wounded, as was her left arm. Her femur was broken in the attack.

"The bandages are too tight on my head," she pleaded to a nurse.

The Shaitas said the car was speeding out of the village at midmorning. The boys' uncle was carrying a white flag with his hand, as was another passenger. Soon after they were hit, a Red Cross ambulance arrived, the crew worried about roads they deemed too risky.

Abbas Bahr, an orthopedic surgeon, had just come out of six hours of surgery, and his face was drawn.

"This is so hard," he said. "I don't know." He repeated the words again.

"And still I don't know what will happen tomorrow."

The day before in Bint Jbeil, two cars carrying seven people were following a Red Cross ambulance when one was wrecked in an Israeli attack, he said. Two wounded women were put in the trunk of the other car. They had died when they arrived at the hospital in Tyre.

The story of pain and fear was the same across the region, whose inhabitants have abandoned it or are in hiding. The Srours were one of the last families left in the village of Mansuri. The Lebanese family had come from Germany on vacation and had been too afraid to leave. As elsewhere in the south, rumors flew among the huddled: that a ship would take them away, that they had safe passage, that they might be evacuated.

The sense of siege deepened Sunday in Tyre, where residents desperate for fish detonated dynamite in the sea to bring them to the surface. In one of the occasional scenes of confusion, an ambulance hit a 21-year-old resident on a motorcycle, injuring him. Most shops remained closed, and for those people remaining, items like baby's milk, gasoline and chicken were disappearing.

The signal of Hezbollah's radio station, al-Nur, was jammed by Israel, which repeated its own message. "Know that the state of Israel will continue its campaign with force and determination with the goal of ending the terrorist work coming from Lebanese land," the voice said. The message ridiculed Hezbollah's leader, saying he was hiding in a cave. "Where is Hasan Nasrallah?" the voice taunted.

At Jabal Amel Hospital, director Ahmed Mroueh opened the ledger of the wounded.

"This is today," he said. "It begins at No. 267 and ends at 300. This is today, until now."

The physician pointed out the children: 8-year-old Diana Said, 4-year-old Hatem Naame, 7-year-old Mariam Hamadeh.

He shook his head. "This is the worst day we've seen."

A relief worker arrived in an ambulance carrying two corpses from an attack on Srifa, where bodies remain buried in rubble.

"Take them to the government hospital," Mroueh told him. "Our morgue is full."

The hospital director turned away. "Ten days," he said -- that was how long he thought the staff could cope with the pace.

"It has to stop," he said matter-of-factly. "It has to stop."

Upstairs was Diana Said, hurt in the attack on the minibus. A white bandage covered her left eye. She sat at the foot of the bed of her father, 34-year-old Said Finjan. He asked a doctor about the car's Syrian driver, Mohammed Abed Sheikh, who was killed.

"Where did they put him?" he blurted out.

Across the hall was his wife, 25-year-old Fawziya Finjan, her face swollen and her head bandaged.

"Thank the Lord," she said softly. "God saved my daughter. That's the most important thing."

Staff photographer Michael Robinson-Chavez contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company