This story from the The New York Times expands on the post yesterday: “Israelis slaughter Lebanese security forces”
Before Attack, Confusion Over Clearance for Convoy
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
A convoy of refugees from several south Lebanese villages was attacked Friday night. The villagers believed they had been given clearance to pass.
HASBAYA, Lebanon, Aug. 12 — The cars set off down the narrow mountain road a few hours before sunset. They were trying to leave villages the Israeli Army occupied two days before, moving with what they thought was permission to pass.
But then the missiles came. Shortly after nightfall, Israeli aircraft fired into the convoy, containing more than a thousand Lebanese villagers. The military said in a statement that it had received a request for the convoy to move, but had denied it. It said it had suspected that cars in the area contained Hezbollah guerrillas carrying weapons, and only later discovered that the cars were part of the refugee convoy.
Six people were killed and more than 30 were wounded, according to witnesses and Red Cross officials. Among the dead were a Lebanese soldier, a baker, a Red Cross worker and the wife of a mayor of one of the villages.
What followed was a scene of panic under a large yellow moon. Drivers switched off their headlights, afraid of being shot, and frantically began turning around on the narrow road, which runs between two mountains near the winemaking village of Kefraya. An ambulance worker driving with the convoy was killed trying to get to the wounded, and it was an hour before nearby emergency workers could get in to pick up the bodies.
“We saw the light and the sound of the bomb,” said Ronitte Daher, a newspaper reporter from the village of Qlayah, who was traveling in the convoy with her sister. “I got out of the car and heard voices of people crying and shouting.”
She did not know what to do, and switched off her lights. Someone shouted to get out of the car and run for cover. Other cars were driving in reverse. She turned her car around.
“When I was turning, I saw a dead body,” she said. “I know that man. I saw his children crying and shouting, ‘Please help us! Please help us!’ ”
Israeli planes have been striking Lebanese civilians since the beginning of the war, hitting a truckload of fleeing farmers, a Lebanese photographer and a village during a funeral. Even so, Friday’s strike still came as a shock: the convoy was more than 500 cars long and included a town mayor, an entire Lebanese Army unit and its own ambulance.
The Israeli military said it had banned the movement of cars south of the Litani River, though the convoy was hit well north of it.
Crowding may have been part of the problem. The villagers had been waiting in Merj ’Uyun, a few miles south of here, since early Friday. Many had not been out of their houses since the Israelis came late last week, and they were desperate to leave.
Finally, around 4 p.m., they piled behind each other in a long bumper-to-bumper line and began moving out. The road was a mess, torn with large craters, and it took more than two hours to move several miles, according to the mayor of Merj ’Uyun , Fuad Hamra, who was in the convoy.
As soon as the cars were hit, all within about three minutes of one another, drivers farther back began hearing about it on their cellphones and many simply stopped in the dark. Some cars parked in areas that looked safe. Others, like Ms. Daher, drove to Jib Janine, a nearby town. Shortly after the attack, clumps of cars were idling in two parking lots south of Jib Jenine. People stood outside in the bright moonlight.
Ms. Daher stayed in the home of a family she had never met. They gave her water.
“I saw some people,” she said. “I asked it’s safe here? They said, yes, come.”
Ms. Daher, a reporter for Nahar Newspaper, one of Lebanon’s main newspapers, said that she tried to take photographs of the soldiers from the window of her house on Thursday, but that soldiers shot at the house when they saw her.
“They asked people not to look out the windows,” she said, speaking by telephone from Beirut, where she finally arrived Saturday afternoon.
She described a frozen town, in which Israeli soldiers and Lebanese civilians were terrified of one another.
“They are afraid of any movement in the houses, so we tried to keep calm,” she said. Israelis, according to Mr. Hamra and other residents, had destroyed some houses in the villages they occupied late last week, and residents did not feel safe inside their homes.
“They bombed some houses,” she said. “We don’t know why.”
Residents were similarly baffled about the convoy. The Israelis have warned several days ago that they would strike anyone driving south of the Litani River, and reiterated that warning the statement they released Saturday about the mistaken strike. But the convoy was hit far north of the river, after the convoy had passed out of active fighting.
“Something went wrong,” Mr. Hamra said by telephone from Beirut. “We were promised that we would have the clearance from Israelis and the road would be cleared. Neither happened.”
“Probably the clearance wasn’t cleared enough.”