Lebanese Father Mourns Loss of FamilyBy TODD PITMAN
Sep. 04, 2006
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MARWAHEEN, Lebanon -- Last month, Khamel Ali Abdallah kissed his wife and six children goodbye, then put them on a bus to his native village in south Lebanon for summer vacation. He was supposed to join them a week later, but war between Hezbollah and Israel broke out.
He would see only one of them again.
The day after Abdallah's family arrived in Marwaheen, a small hilltop village a stone's throw from the Israeli border, Israel unleashed a barrage of artillery and airstrikes that reached Lebanon's glittering Mediterranean capital of Beirut and beyond.
The assault tore giant craters into roads across the country, making it too dangerous for Abdallah to leave Beirut. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of charred cars still line the roads of war-wrecked towns, more than two weeks after a U.N. cease-fire ended the fighting, provoked by Hezbollah's July 12 capture of two Israeli soldiers.
Abdallah, 36, who holds jobs as a security guard and a coffee server at a communications company, called his wife in Marwaheen three times a day for the first three days of the war.
"She kept telling me 'Beirut is dangerous, it's being bombed, be careful,'" Abdallah said. "I told her 'I'll be fine, take care of yourself.'"
On the fourth day of fighting, he called at 7:30 a.m. "She told me 'We are fine,'" Abdallah said, and he felt reassured.
He called back an hour later. This time there was no answer.
Abdallah managed to reach a brother in nearby Sidon on the phone, who told him he'd heard the family had fled Marwaheen after Israeli forces ordered residents via loudspeakers to evacuate within two hours.
The panicked family had rushed to the local U.N. headquarters and begged U.N. peacekeepers to protect them. The peacekeepers turned them away, and the group decided the only way out was to risk Lebanon's deadly roads.
"There was a fire burning inside me. I couldn't think. I could only worry," Abdallah said of the uncertain hours that followed.
Glued to the television in his Beirut apartment, he saw a report about a convoy carrying civilians trying to flee Marwaheen that had been hit by an Israeli airstrike. More than a dozen were said to be dead.
A sick feeling came over him.
Desperate for news, he called his brother in Sidon. His brother told him he had something important to tell him, but he could not do it on the phone.
Abdallah knew what it was and wept.
Twenty-three people in the two-vehicle convoy were killed in the assault, carried out by an Israeli gunboat and an attack helicopter that strafed the survivors.
Only four people survived. One was Abdallah's 6-year-old daughter, Lara, who miraculously crawled out of the burning wreckage without a scratch, but covered in blood and screaming.
Her aunt, Zeinab, said Lara was in her mother's lap when the vehicle was struck and her mother's body had shielded her. Zeinab survived only because she had stepped away from the vehicle, which had overheated or broken down, and was sitting by the road.
His wife and five other children _ a 2-year-old daughter and sons aged 8, 12, 13 and 14 _ were killed.
"God protected her, this little girl," Abdallah said, cradling her in his lap. "I thank God. She is all I have left."
Across south Lebanon, the yellow flags of Hezbollah fly over the rubble of destroyed houses. Hung across roads in Hezbollah strongholds, yellow banners proclaim "Our Blood has Won" in Arabic, French and English. The Islamic militia says it won an asymmetrical war simply by surviving.
But there are no Hezbollah banners in Marwaheen. Here black flags fly from rooftops.
"Nobody won this war," Abdallah said, wearing black trousers and a black shirt.
He leaned down, put his cheek to Lara's and ran his hand through her hair. She hopped down and ran giddily from room to room, too young to understand she'll never see her mother and five brothers again.
On a wind-swept hilltop cemetery overlooking a deep valley, the 23 slain were buried Thursday in coffins under a patch of dark red earth. Simple cinder blocks topped with pictures kept in place by loose stones mark their locations until proper grave stones can be brought in.
"The Lebanese people, the civilians, we are the losers," Abdallah said softly. "We have lost everything."