Ambulances fired on by Israel, says Red Cross
Ed O'Loughlin Herald Correspondent in Tyre and agencies
July 25, 2006
ISRAELI forces pushed up to the edge of Bint Jbeil, a large town on Lebanon's southern border, yesterday as heavy fighting continued.
Thousands of Lebanese civilians are still believed to be in the area, trapped in their homes by Israeli bombardment. Dozens of Lebanese civilians had earlier been killed or wounded by Israeli aircraft as they tried to comply with Israeli orders to flee the area or die.
Israeli jets repeatedly bombed the area east and south of Tyre in the dark, with reports of eight civilians killed and six wounded.
The Red Cross in Tyre said that five of its volunteers and three patients were wounded when Israeli aircraft attacked two ambulances on Sunday night. The attack took place near Qana when an ambulance from Tyre arrived to evacuate three patients from the border town of Tibnin.
The drivers said that two guided missiles were fired at each ambulance. Three patients - a woman, her son and grandson - were all re-injured, the son losing his leg to a direct hit from one of the kinetic-energy anti-tank missiles.
Ambulance drivers - until Sunday night the only people able to drive out into the killing zone - report that the roads around Tibnin are strewn with wrecked vehicles and uncollected bodies. The Red Cross has now been forced to abandon all attempts to rescue wounded from Tibnin.
More than 369 Lebanese have died since the fighting began on July 12, almost all of them non-combatants. Twenty Israeli combat personnel have died and 17 Israeli civilians have been killed.
Israel has ruled out a large-scale re-invasion of Lebanon but says it will carry out "pinpoint" incursions to locate and destroy Hezbollah positions.
The leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said yesterday that Israeli attacks in south Lebanon will not prevent the guerilla group from firing missiles into northern Israel.
"Any Israeli incursion will not have political results unless it achieves any of the announced goals, most importantly to stop the bombardment of Zionist settlements … and I assure you that this goal will not be achieved," he told a Lebanese newspaper.
Hezbollah says it will not halt its fire until Israel in turn agrees to cease its bombardment of Lebanon and to negotiate a prisoner exchange.
The violence broke out after a Hezbollah border raid killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two. Lebanon's Foreign Minister said yesterday that the two captured Israeli soldiers "are OK and in good health".
"I was basing it on what Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said," the minister, Fawzi Salloukh, said. "So let the United Nations or another friendly party come to Lebanon and start the negotiations [for a swap]."
On Sunday the Israeli Defence Force said that its troops had in turn captured two Hezbollah fighters in fighting at the border.
Red Cross ambulances destroyed in Israeli air strike on rescue mission
· Volunteer paramedics demand UN guarantees
· Flags and lights prove no protection for aid teams
Suzanne Goldenberg in Tyre
The Guardian, Tuesday 25 July 2006
Coffins are prepared for mass burial in the Lebanese city of Tyre. Photograph: Nasser Nasser/AP
The ambulance headlamps were on, the blue light overhead was flashing, and another light illuminated the Red Cross flag when the first Israeli missile hit, shearing off the right leg of the man on the stretcher inside. As he lay screaming beneath fire and smoke, patients and ambulance workers scrambled for safety, crawling over glass in the dark. Then another missile hit the second ambulance.
Even in a war which has turned the roads of south Lebanon into killing zones, Israel's rocket strike on two clearly marked Red Cross ambulances on Sunday night set a deadly new milestone.
Six ambulance workers were wounded and three generations of the Fawaz family, being transported to hospital from Tibnin with what were originally minor injuries, were left fighting for their lives. Two ambulances were entirely destroyed, their roofs pierced by missiles.
The Lebanese Red Cross, whose ambulance service for south Lebanon is run entirely by volunteers, immediately announced it would cease all rescue missions unless Israel guaranteed their safety through the United Nations or the International Red Cross.
For the villages below the Litani river, the ambulances were their last link to the outside world. Yesterday, that too was gone, leaving the 100,000 people of Tyre district with no way of reaching hospital other than to take to the roads themselves, under the roar of Israeli war planes.
The fateful call to the Red Cross operations room came through at about 10pm - well after dark, a time when almost no Lebanese now dare venture out.
At the Red Cross office in Tyre, three volunteer medics dressed in their orange overalls, and got into their ambulance. The plan was to drive halfway, meet the local ambulance, and transfer the three patients to their vehicle to return to Tyre.
By Nader Joudi's reckoning, the ambulances had been stopped for barely two minutes. Two patients had been loaded: Ahmed Mustafa Fawaz, who had been hit by shrapnel in the stomach, and his son, Mohammed, 14. The volunteer attendant was just easing Jamila Fawaz, 80, inside and setting up a drip when the missile struck. He managed to get the old woman and the child outside, but there was no way to reach Mr Fawaz. "It was horrible," Mr Joudi said. "He was screaming, and we couldn't do anything."
One of the members of the three-man crew from Tibnin radioed for help when another missile plunged through the roof. Ambulance crew and patients retreated to the cellar of a nearby building, then waited to be rescued, trying as best as they could to help the injured. "Each of us treated ourselves. There was no light," said Kassem Shaalan, a medic from Tyre.
By the time patients and ambulance crew reached Tyre, Mr Fawaz was unconscious after losing one leg, and suffering severe fractures to the other. His son had lost part of a foot, and his mother's body was riddled with shrapnel. Mr Joudi had shrapnel wounds in his left arm, and Mr Shaalan cuts to the face and leg.
He was adamant that the ambulances, with their Red Cross insignia on the roof, were clearly visible from the air. "I don't think there can be a mistake in two bombings of two ambulances," he said.
Although the air strike marked the first time ambulances have been hit by Israel in this war, for Mr Shaalan and the other Red Cross volunteers it was only a matter of time. After two weeks of strikes designed to choke off possible supply lines to Hizbullah guerrillas, travel to many villages was just too dangerous. Coastal villages even within a few kilometers of Tyre are cut off. In some, corpses remain trapped in the rubble for days.
But nothing is more perilous than travelling by night, and no more so than just before midnight that Sunday when another Red Cross crew set off from Tyre to pick up their injured colleagues.
"I was trembling," said Ali Deeb, one of the volunteers on the mission. "It was too dangerous, and helicopters buzzing, and all through this, I am thinking one thing: the ambulance that left half an hour before you has already been injured, and you could be next." Later yesterday afternoon, two missiles landed in the building across the road from the Red Cross office.
Civilian deaths 8
Hizbullah deaths 0
Military deaths 66
Civilian deaths 377
Civilian deaths 0
Military deaths 4
Military deaths 24
Civilian deaths 17
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