The child lies like a rag doll - a symbol of the latest Lebanon war

By Robert Fisk in Beirut

The Independent

Published: 20 July 2006

How soon must we use the words "war crime"? How many children must be scattered in the rubble of Israeli air attacks before we reject the obscene phrase "collateral damage" and start talking about prosecution for crimes against humanity?

The child whose dead body lies like a rag doll beside the cars which were supposedly taking her and her family to safety is a symbol of the latest Lebanon war; she was hurled from the vehicle in which she and her family were travelling in southern Lebanon as they fled their village - on Israel's own instructions. Because her parents were apparently killed in the same Israeli air attack, her name is still unknown. Not an unknown warrior, but an unknown child.

The story of her death, however, is well documented. On Saturday, the inhabitants of the tiny border village of Marwaheen were ordered by Israeli troops - apparently using a bullhorn - to leave their homes by 6pm. Marwaheen lies closest to the spot where Hizbollah guerrillas broke through the frontier wire a week ago to capture two Israeli soldiers and kill three others, the attack which provoked this latest cruel war in Lebanon. The villagers obeyed the Israeli orders and initially appealed to local UN troops of the Ghanaian battalion for protection.

But the Ghanaian soldiers, obeying guidelines set down by the UN's headquarters in New York in 1996, refused to permit the Lebanese civilians to enter their base. By terrible irony, the UN's rules had been drawn up after their soldiers gave protection to civilians during an Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon in 1996 in which 106 Lebanese, more than half of them children, were slaughtered when the Israelis shelled the UN compound at Qana, in which they had been given sanctuary.

So the people of Marwaheen set off for the north in a convoy of cars which only minutes later, close to the village of Tel Harfa, were attacked by an Israeli F-16 fighter-bomber. It bombed all the cars and killed at least 20 of the civilians travelling in them, many of them women and children. Twelve people were burnt alive in their vehicles but others, including the child who lies like a rag doll near the charred civilian convoy, whose photograph was taken - at great risk - by an Associated Press photographer, Nasser Nasser, were blown clear of the cars by the blast of the bombs and fell into fields and a valley near the scene of the attack. There has been no apology or expression of regret from Israel for these deaths.

The innocent continued to die yesterday in Israeli air attacks across Lebanon. Five civilians were killed when an Israeli missile struck a house near the town of Nabatea. Three members of the Hamed family were killed along with their Sri Lankan maid. In the village of Srifa, in the south, Israeli air strikes flattened 15 houses which were homes to at least 23 people but - with no lifting vehicles able to reach that part of the country - there was no way of rescuing anyone alive trapped in the buildings.

The Lebanese civil authorities, however, were able to give names to the dead after an Israeli air raid on the Bekaa Valley village of Nabi Chit; they included Ali Suleiman; Daoud Hazima; Khadija Moussawi and her children Bilal, Talal and Yasmine; Maouffaq Diab; Ahmed and Khairallah Mouawad; Mustafa Jroud and Bushra Shuqr. At least three of the names were female. Another four civilians were killed in an air raid on the village of Loussi in eastern Lebanon.

The Israelis constantly boast of their "pin-point" or "surgical" precision in air attacks. If this is true, then there are far too many civilians being killed in the Lebanese bloodbath to make every one of them an accident. And since Israel's target list now includes obviously civilian targets - deliberately bombed to punish the civilian population - the evidence is mounting that these air raids are intended to kill the innocent as well as the Hizbollah guerrillas whom Israel claims to be fighting.

True, the Hizbollah are killing civilians in Israel, but their missiles are inaccurate and the West, which has done no more than mildly disapprove of Israel's retaliatory onslaught, must surely expect higher standards of the Israeli armed forces than of the men whom both Israel and President George Bush describe as "terrorists".

Why, for example, did the Israelis attack and destroy the headquarters of the Liban-Lait company in the Bekaa Valley, the largest milk factory in Lebanon? Why did they bomb out the factory of the main importer for Proctor and Gamble products in Lebanon, based in Bchmoun? Why did they destroy a paper box factory outside Beirut? And why did Israeli planes attack a convoy of new ambulances being brought into Lebanon from Syria yesterday, vehicles which were the gift of the medical authorities of the United Arab Emirates? The ambulances were clearly marked as a relief aid convoy, according to an Emirates official. Were all these "terrorist" targets? Was the little girl in the field at Tel Harfa a "terrorist" target?

An example of Israel's lack of care in targeting Lebanon came yesterday morning when an Israeli plane fired four missiles into a disused parking lot in the Christian district of Ashrafieh in Beirut. Their targets turned out to be two derelict water drilling lorries which were standing tyre-deep in weeds. Were the tubes on the back of the lorries supposed to be missile launchers? And if so, who imagined that Hizbollah would ever try to conceal such weapons in a Christian area of Beirut where Hizbollah believe many of Israel's own collaborators live.

In Beirut and Nabatea, Lebanese security men claim to have arrested "collaborators" who were "painting" houses and cars with phosphorus to guide in Israeli jets to destroy them. At the same time, the Lebanese Minister of Finance, Jihad Azour, stated that 45 bridges had been destroyed across Lebanon and 60,000 families - 500,000 civilians - have been displaced.

Thousands of foreigners - many of them Lebanese holding dual citizenship - continued to leave the country by bus and ship yesterday, including hundreds of Britons who started the evacuation on Monday in HMS Gloucester. Americans were leaving by sea, although a French security company in Amman - SPO Middle East - was reported to have been hired by the US to evacuate its citizens by bus at a cost of $3,000 (£1,700) a head.

They, of course, are the lucky ones, who will finish their journeys in Damascus or Cyprus rather than beside a burnt convoy at Tel Harfa.

The conflict: Day eight

* The deadliest day of the war as Israeli air strikes on Lebanon kill 58 civilians. At least 17 people, including several children, die during attacks on the southern village of Srifa. One Hizbollah guerrilla killed.

* Hizbollah rockets kill two Arab-Israeli children playing outside their house in the holy city of Nazareth.

* The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was "extremely concerned about the grave consequences that military action is still having on the civilian population".

* Tony Blair rejects calls for a ceasefire and tells Hizbollah to hand over Israeli soldiers and cease bombardment. "This would stop now if the soldiers who were kidnapped... were released," he said.

* Lebanon's Prime Minister, Fuad Siniora, right, says his country "has been torn to shreds". He chided those who said Israel was acting in self-defence. "Is this what the international community calls the right of self-defence?"

* The first official Lebanese death toll confirms that 300 people have been killed, 1,000 wounded and 500,000 displaced. On the Israeli side, 29 people have been killed, including 14 soldiers and 15 civilians.

* A cruise liner brings out more than 1,000 Americans as evacuation of foreigners continues; First Britons are flown home from Cyprus after 510 are evacuated by HMS Gloucester and HMS York.

* Israel says its air strikes have destroyed "about 50 per cent" of Hizbollah's arsenal. "It will take us time to destroy what is left," says Brigadier-General Alon Friedman.

* Washington rejects French ceasefire proposals. President Bush turns to Syria, saying: "Syria's trying to get back into Lebanon. The world must deal with Hizbollah, Syria and continue to isolate Iran." More than a week since the conflict erupted, signs of a diplomatic solution to the conflict remain elusive.

* Israeli troops kill 12 Palestinians, including two civilians, in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Tanks move into Mughazi refugee camp.

* Israeli and Hizbollah leaders may face war crimes charges over civilian casualties, says Louise Arbour, UN high commissioner for human rights.