Innocent Victims Caught Up In A War Of Endless Revenge
Innocent Victims Caught Up In A War Of Endless Revenge
It is a place of Palestinian fury - and almost as much Palestinian blood. The bandage-swaddled children whimpering in pain, frowning at the strange, unfatherly doctors, the middle-aged woman staring at us with one eye, a set of tubes running into her gashed-open stomach, a series of bleak-faced, angry, young men, their bodies and legs torn apart.
There was eight-year Youssef al-Radi who was cut open by shrapnel in the arm and back yesterday morning and brought to the Palestinian Safad hospital at Badawi, another refugee camp in Tripoli, his feet bleeding, a tiny figure on a huge stretcher. He hasn't been told that his mother died beside him. Nor that his father is still in the Nahr el-Bared camp.
And let us not forget six-year-old Aiman Hussein, who was hit by up to a hundred pieces of metal from a Lebanese army shell - in the neck and the spine, the tibia, the foot, the back, you name it. The doctors had to rush him to
Some of the buildings look like Irish lace and a mosque's green minaret has a shell hole just below the platform where the muezzin's call would be heard five times a day, as if a giant had punched at it in anger. There is even a field of ripped-up tents, which must have been what this camp looked like when the grandfathers of those wounded children arrived here from
The Lebanese armoured personnel carriers were dug into the rich earth, and the soldiers were sheltering behind a collection of smashed houses, petrol stations and lock-up garages. We found two colonels in one garage, who politely offered us coffee, and a lieutenant who had lived in
I looked across the camp. Was it worth all this pain, the grotty, empty streets, the broken apartment block with dirty grey smoke still drifting from its windows? The Lebanese soldiers claim they try never to hurt civilians (I can think of another army which says that!), but did so many Palestinians have to be killed or wounded for the crimes of a few, some - we do not know how many - not even from "Palestine" but from Syria or Yemen or Saudi Arabia? Just behind me was the checkpoint where the gunmen of Chaker el-Absi (born
Most of the troops around me were from the north of
All day, the ambulances ran a ferry service of wounded from the camp, sirens shrieking through the wards, spilling out the wounded and the sick and the ancient men and women who could bear no more. They were given small sacks of bread - like animals newly arrived at market, I couldn't help thinking - and led away.
They had heard all the political statements. Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French President, had been on the phone to the Lebanese Prime Minister, insisting that he should not give in to "intimidation" - perhaps he thought the Palestinians were the same kind of "scum" that he called the rioting Arabs of the Paris suburbs last year - and President Bush gave his his support to the Lebanese government and army.
And Walid Jumblatt said of the Syrian President that "the Lebanese Army ought to crush Fatah al-Islam once and for all to prevent Assad from turning
What, I kept asking myself yesterday, have we unleashed now? Well, you can ask Suheila Mustafa who stood yesterday at the bedside of her 45-year-old sister, Samia, so terribly wounded by army shellfire in the face that she could neither talk nor focus upon us with her bloated left eye. "We had just woken up when we heard the first barrage of gunfire," she said. "My sister was beside me and fell down with her head bleeding. She haemorraged from 5.50 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon. At last my brother brought us all out in his car. But let me tell you this. The Palestinian people have heard Walid Jumblatt and we say 'thank you' to him and let us have more shelling.
"And I would like to thank Prime Minister Siniora, and say thanks - really thanks - very much to George Bush and to Condoleezza Rice. I really want to thank them for these shells and these wounds we are suffering. And if Rice really wants to send more materiel to the Lebanese Army, she had better hurry up. There is a woman still in the camp who is very pregnant and the child in her womb will be born and will grow into a man - and then we'll see!"
Of course, one wants to remind Suheila - perhaps not her dreadfully wounded sister - that the Palestinians are guests in
I found an old lady in Safad hospital, whimpering and sobbing. She was 75, she said, and her daughter had just brought out her own two-month-old child and this was the fifth time she had been "displaced". She used that word, "displaced". She had lost her home in
No wonder that in all the Palestinian camps of
And so we continued through the wards. There was Ghassan Ahmed el-Saadi, who had arrived at the camp's medical centre to distribute bread with his friends Abdul Latif al-Abdullah and Raad Ali Shams. "A shell came down and my friends both fell dead at my feet," said Mr Saadi, who is a mass of tubes and wounds and a bloody foot.
There was Ahmed Sharshara, just eight years old, with a huge plaster over his chest. A hunk of shell had entered his back and broken into his spine and partly emerged from his chest. The X-ray showed a piece of metal like a leaf in his stomach. His lungs were still being drained.
And there was Nibal Bushra who went to his balcony on Sunday morning to find out why the camp was being shelled when a single bullet hit his brother. Then a sniper's bullet hit him. For two days he lay bleeding in the camp before being brought out.
"I wish they would take us to a European country because we are not safe here, and the Arab nations are beasts, monsters to us," he said. "I won't even talk to Arab journalists. They are not prepared to tell the truth." And what has become of his desire to return to the old Safad of Palestine, I asked. "We will never go home," he said. "But I trust the Europeans because they seem good and kind people."
And then - a little annex to this story - there was a small room where I found Ahmed Maisour Sayed, 24, part-paralysed and unable to speak, who was not a victim of the Lebanese army. He was brought here on 3 May after being shot by two gunmen from Fatah al-Islam because he was a PLO supporter. "His family and one of their families had quarreled about ideology," his father told me. "So they shot him and killed two other men. They are a terrorist organisation and we don't know what they want. There's only about 700 of them. But now my son can never work, We need help from an international organisation." I dared not tell him that I come from the
But I did notice, back at Nahr el-Bared, a heap of empty Lebanese army machinegun cartridges, and I picked one up as a souvenir. And when I got home to
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