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86 corpses into plain wood caskets. Many just big enough to fit a small child
Dozens of dead buried in temporary mass grave until fighting ends
Clancy Chassay in Tyre
Saturday July 22, 2006
In the driveway of Tyre's Government hospital yesterday the sour smell of rotting flesh mingled with spray paint as the chief coroner wrote the names of the dead on their coffins.
Empty wood caskets, which had been neatly stacked by a large white freezer truck - one of two being used to store the bodies of many of those killed during Israel's bombardment of south Lebanon - were now being filled; 86 of the 150 corpses in the truck were to be buried in the afternoon.
The continuous drone of Israel's Apache gunships could be heard over a clamouring crowd that had gathered to witness the burial. As an old man nailed coffins shut, friends and family members of the victims wept or stared at the bodies, loosely wrapped in plastic or bloodied blankets, as they were passed out of the truck. The noisy gathering quietened each time a smaller bundle emerged from the makeshift morgue.
Once sealed, the coffins were placed along the length of a wall outside the hospital each underneath a large black painted number. Several hours passed before they were finally ferried to a nearby field where two trenches had been dug to serve as a mass grave. It will not be their last resting place. They will lie there until the fighting subsides and the bodies can be exhumed and handed over to their families. The caskets, many only big enough to hold a small child were laid in two large trenches, less than 100 metres long, two metres wide and no more than a metre deep.
Watching the burial was Qasim Shaala, the chief medic at Tyre's Red Cross offices. "Most of the casualties are women and children," he said. "They [Israel] are not letting us save them. Ambulances aren't allowed into areas after they are shelled."
For the past four days, Mr Shaala and his team of 50 volunteers have been ferrying people from the Red Cross centre in Tibnin, near the border with Israel, to Tyre. Earlier that day Mr Shaala described the dangers and difficulties his ambulance workers had faced.
"We are being bombed as we try to get to the victims, and when we try to bring them back. Many of the roads are destroyed so we have to take detours through the orchards and farmland."
He said that on every trip the teams had to stop their vehicles several times to clear large chunks of debris from those stretches of road that could still be used. Several of his drivers had been wounded by Israeli air strikes and one of his five ambulances was rendered useless.