"You killed him, you killed him, my only son," the Lebanese woman screamed as she ran toward an Israeli patrol that had fired at her car in the mistaken belief that it was carrying terrorists.
A few minutes later, I and another correspondent, who were being held by the same Israeli patrol, were trying to comfort the mother and aid her 11-year-old son, unconscious and bleeding profusely from a bullet wound to his forehead.
What had begun for us as an attempt to visit Maarakeh, a southern Lebanese town raided by the Israeli Army yesterday following guerrilla ambushes of Israeli troops, made us unintended participants in the hostilities that have engulfed this area as Israel tries to protect its departure and Shiite Moslem guerrillas press their attacks.
Julie Flint of ABC Radio and I were released after 3 1/2 hours and allowed to return to Beirut. While detained, we had long conversations with the young Israeli soldiers. We saw them capture, beat and kick three guerrillas carrying weapons in their car and experienced the contrasting tenderness of Israeli medics who arrived shortly after the shooting to minister to the wounded boy, who appeared near death when we left. Then we unexpectedly were shot at by Lebanese Army and guerrilla forces when we left the Israeli-occupied territory.
To get to the area, we defied an Israeli ban, imposed Tuesday, on Beirut-based journalists visiting Israeli-held areas. When we were taken into custody by Israeli forces, on our way to Maarakeh, we were never asked our names or occupations or told to present any identification papers, and we did not volunteer the information that we were journalists.
Israel, whose troops have suffered repeated ambushes in the area around Tyre, where we witnessed today's events, has warned repeatedly that it will act to protect the lives of its soldiers in southern Lebanon, and it has said that the crackdown in recent days was a response to an escalation in Shiite attacks on its troops.
At least 133 guerrilla attacks against Israelis and their allies were reported in February, and 17 more have been reported this month.
[There were no wire service reports of Israel acknowledging the shooting of the Lebanese boy. Reuter quoted Israeli military sources as saying that Israeli troops had killed a suspected guerrilla after an Israeli patrol had been ambushed near the village of Bedias, northeast of Tyre. In Tel Aviv, a military spokesman said grenades had been fired at an Israeli position near Tyre, in a separate incident, causing no injuries.]
We had driven from Beirut to an Israeli checkpoint at Froun, about 14 miles east of Tyre, a Mediterranean port city, and were just south of the Litani River, the present Israeli line, about 25 miles north of the Israeli-Lebanese border.
An Israeli soldier told me that no cars could pass. Fearful of the increasing raids against their forces, the Israelis were attempting to keep men and cars from crossing into the regions they still occupied.
At our insistence, our driver, Mohammed, then took a little-known route just north of the Israeli line to Zrariye, the last Lebanese Army position before Israeli lines. Truck drivers and women working in the fields warned us that there were Israelis ahead, but we kept going.
We had just passed through Qsaibe, where worried villagers had warned us again about Israelis, when Israeli soldiers in the road waved submachine guns at us and halted us.
The 18-year-old commander of the seven-man unit, Giddi, shouted and ordered us into an open-sided farm hut. The soldiers questioned us about whether we had seen a white Mercedes that had blocked the road. They suspected guerrillas were trying to ambush them.
The Israeli soldiers, clearly tense and referring to a plastic-covered map to pinpoint where they were, said they were wearing no bullet-proof vests, because they were too heavy and were no real protection against bullets or explosions.
They did ask what we were doing, and we said only that we were traveling to the Tyre area to have lunch. We were both wearing jeans and baggy sweaters.
Giddi said his parents were originally Italian. Ari, 21, who was guarding the roof of the hut from a scaffold, had aimed his machine gun through a window. We chatted with them about what they were doing.
One of the Israeli soldiers, who said he originally came from England, said, "We're sorry about this."
Giddi asked our ages, radioed his commanding officer and said he could not let us go because we might give him and his men away to the terrorists.
There was talk and denials by the soldiers of killing guerrillas, and it was difficult to tell when they were being serious or playing games. There was a lot of chuckling and furtive looks between them, and Hebrew conversation that we could not understand.
Ari, whose parents are French, asked me if I were French. I told him I was Lebanese and Julie, who is British, volunteered to him that I was a Christian Maronite. They told us they had girlfriends in Israel and that coming to Lebanon had been a mistake. Ari, sitting on the scaffold, repeated the word many times.
Then a white car drove up.
One of the occupants tried to open the door. As the Israeli soldiers shouted at them, three young Lebanese Shiite men walked toward us with their hands raised. They were taken to an adjacent room in the hut and asked in halting Arabic for their names and birthdates, and the information was radioed to Israeli commanders. After questioning them, Giddi rejoined us.
Not until an hour later did Giddi search their car. Grinning and shouting in Hebrew, he looked at us and said, "Guess what, they are the terrorists. I saw three Kalashnikovs in their car." He referred to the Soviet-designed assault weapons commonly used by the guerrillas.
The other soldiers reacted wildly. Yelling and calling names in Arabic, they started kicking the three men in the genitals and the small of their backs. Ori, an Israeli medic, tied their hands behind their backs with a wire. One started bleeding.
The three, were identified as Hasan Sabra, 19, from Qantara, Yousef Abu Zeid, 20, from Kfar Rumman and Baed Maatouk, 19, from Dir Gharbiyeh, where Israelis killed seven guerrillas last week.
Maatouk, after being slapped around, said the three had been given 50,000 Lebanese pounds each -- about $3,200 -- by Abu Ali Hammoud, an official in west Beirut of Amal, the Shiite militia, to carry out an operation against Israeli soldiers. Abu Beid and Sabra began trembling and turned pale.
I was asked to help translate their answers. The Israelis wanted to know if there was a bomb in the car. Maatouk said there was only one rocket in the car. Ori checked and said there was a rocket-propelled grenade and also two landmines.
I asked them what their mission was. They said they had been told to shoot down an Israeli plane.
With their hands tied behind their backs, Sabra and Abu Zeid were kicked in the stomach and the genitals again. Ori, seeing us gasping with our hands over our mouths, shook his head. "I'm a medic," he said. "I don't like this any more than you do. Believe me I don't like it, being here, but look at them. I am young, and I want to stay alive. It makes me angry."
Giddi was angry with his men. Although I could not understand Hebrew, I could tell he was chiding them for their excesses.
Ori, noticing blood dripping from Sabra's hands, bandaged him carefully. Sabra vomited and collapsed on the floor. He called me and pleaded with me to have the Israelis send him a doctor.
Ori, concerned about Sabra's moans and pallor, asked me to inquire how he felt. "Tell them," Sabra said, "that we are on a mission just like them. It's not our fault. We are just like them."
Uncertain that he had heard me, he looked, imploringly. "Did you tell him, did you tell him, we are doing our job like they are?" I did.
Giddi cocked his gun as he asked the guerrillas questions. He radioed for orders and then began to relax again, telling us the Israelis were catching "seven terrorists a week."
A few minutes later, the Israelis stopped a man walking down the hill with crutches and took him to the cubicle with the guerrillas.
Suddenly, from the scaffolding, Ari began shooting at an approaching car, about 70 yards away from us on the road. Julie and I, watching from the open side of the hut, could see and hear clearly that the occupants included women.
Ari cheered, clapped his hands and shouted, "I hit the driver!"
I ran out of the hut to see what was happening. I could hear women crying. The doors of the car opened. We saw one of the women wave a white handkerchief.
Running barefoot toward us and screaming, beating her thighs and her chest, a woman called out: "You killed him, you killed him, my only son, I have no other."
"Why did you do it?" she cried, falling to the ground and pounding her head on the grass. "Kill me, too, kill me, too. I have five daughters, I waited 25 years to get a son."
I tried to translate as fast as I could. Ari continued to shout that he thought he had shot the driver in the leg, and he asked where he was.
The woman, nearly incoherent, gave her name as Nur Sadeq and said all she knew was that her son Hassan, 11, had been hit in the head and appeared to be dead and that one of her daughters was wounded.
Another daughter, wearing jeans and a flowered scarf, followed her down the hill. I told the Israelis they had to save the wounded daughter.
"Can you drive?" Giddi asked me. "Yes," I said. He flung the keys to our car at me.
We took the distraught mother and her daughter with us and drove toward their car. There was no one in it. The father had pulled his son about 30 yards back to get him out of the Israelis' firing range.
We found the boy, with an open wound in his forehead and blood soaking his clothing.
He appeared to be dead. One of his sisters, wounded in her ear, yelled at me. "It's my little brother," she screamed.
"He's alive," the father insisted. I saw the boy move slightly. "Look, he is moving," his mother said. "Please save him -- take him to Israel."
I backed all the way down the hill -- there was no time or room to turn around. When I reached the Israelis, the medic came to the car.
Giddi told us doctors were on their way. Hassan was going into convulsions. Ori asked Julie to help keep a knife between his teeth.
Soon, Israeli reinforcements arrived -- about 60 men with older officers and two doctors, an ambulance and other vehicles.
Hassan was taken to the ambulance. His mother was screaming. "Don't be afaid, don't be afraid," one of the soldiers with Giddi's unit told her, caressing her cheek as she sat on the road. "The doctors have come, don't worry."
With the shooting, it was an odd mix of tenderness and brutality.
We asked the newly arrived commanding officer if we could go to Beirut. The Israeli soldiers had tied the hands of Mohammed, our driver, and he was sitting with the guerrillas now.
The officer said we could go but Mohammed could not because he had to be interrogated. We insisted we would not leave without him. At the urging of Giddi and his men, the officer let us and Mohammed go.
We had no idea what happened to the boy. The three guerrillas remained in Israeli custody.
As we sped off, the Israelis ordered us to take the man with the crutches with us. He told us he had come to check the road because his uncle wanted to drive to Beirut with his truck. He said he would go back once the Israelis left.
With sighs of relief, we reached the Lebanese Army checkpoint in Zrariye -- and then suddenly shots were being fired at us.
Lebanese Army troops were shooting at us from one side and guerrillas from the other. We stopped the car and threw our hands up, shouting at them to stop.
One of the Army officers recognized us and the shooting stopped. We rushed back to the relative safety of west Beirut.