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In Lebanon's Rubble, Aftershocks of War
"I think the biggest hazards are the unexploded submunitions, and the smallest, fired from artillery, are the most dangerous," said Messick, who has worked in Kosovo and northern Iraq with disaster response teams.
Such dangers awaited Hassan and his family when they returned home to Aita al-Shaab, a town of about 8,000 people located next to the Israeli border, about 55 miles south of Beirut. The family fled on July 15, three days after the fighting broke out, and moved from town to town until the cease-fire took effect nearly a month later. During the fighting, the population in Aita al-Shaab dwindled to 1,000, and 16 people were killed there -- eight civilians and eight Hezbollah guerrillas, according to residents.
Hassan said he had yearned for Aita al-Shaab during his month on the road, homesick for his house and his playmates. When his uncle, Ahmad Tehini, went to check on the family's house after the cease-fire, the boy went along and refused to leave, remaining behind with his grandparents.
On Aug. 17, Hassan and his cousins Sikna Merei Qassem and Marwa Ahmed Merei, both 12, went out to scout the new landscape of shattered stone and concrete around their homes. "We wanted to see which houses were destroyed. The whole neighborhood is broken," Hassan said.
But they really wanted to play again. Hassan unearthed a ball covered in dust and asked Sikna to throw it his way. It exploded between them. Hassan's intestines spilled out, splattering blood.
"I started screaming," Hassan recalled. "The bomb threw me two or three meters away. My legs, my clothes were soaked in blood."
Youssef Saleh, a neighbor, saw them run in his direction. "Hassan's guts were hanging out, and Sikna was moaning," Saleh said. "I carried my nephew in my arms and took Sikna and drove them to Rmeish." Marwa, who suffered minor wounds in her stomach and chest, was taken in another car.
From Rmeish, civil defense workers moved the three children to an emergency room at the Salah Ghandour Hospital in Bint Jbeil. Red Cross workers then took them to Tyre.
"After two and a half hours on the road, the three children were in shock," said Abed al-Hussein Sharafeddine, the anesthetist who presided over surgery on Hassan at Jabal Amel Hospital in Tyre.
Hassan's intestines had been severed in three places, requiring 13 sutures in one spot, according to Sharafeddine.
Like Hassan, Sikna was bleeding profusely. "The blood spurted out of my stomach like that -- pshhh ," Sikna said, sitting on her hospital bed clutching her nightgown. When she reached the hospital in Tyre, doctors had to insert a breathing tube in her windpipe because shrapnel embedded in one of her lungs prevented her from breathing on her own.
While Hassan recovers in the hospital, his relatives struggle to rebuild their lives. His mother said their home in Aita al-Shaab no longer existed.
"We could not find our clothes," she said. "Our walls were flattened to be bulldozed. We have no money. We are living with my brother-in-law in Aytat, four families on top of one another.
"We are still afraid," she added. "The Israelis are still there, and the children cannot play there anymore."