Sun, Aug 20, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Lebanese taking the opportunity to bury their dead

AP , QANA, LEBANON

The breeze blew fine dust across graves where 29 people killed in an Israeli airstrike -- half of them children -- were buried, as the ground was opened for funerals in south Lebanon.

Women in black robes, their heads hidden by black scarves, held pictures of the dead and threw rice and rose petals on the plywood caskets on Friday in the village of Qana, struck during the 34-day Israel-Hezbollah war. Twenty-six coffins were draped in the Lebanese flag and three in the yellow Hezbollah flag.

Qana, about 10km southeast of the port city of Tyre, held the most elaborate of several funerals in southern Lebanon on Friday after residents decided it was finally safe and hospital morgues made sure all bodies could be claimed. A caravan of cars made its way from one service to the next.

"This is the day to bury our dead," said Shiite cleric Sheik Shoue Qatoon. "It was decided that we would schedule the funerals so that we could all attend them all."

During the war, bodies were taken to the Tyre morgue and later buried in a shallow mass grave when refrigerated trucks holding the corpses became too crowded. On Friday, the bodies were exhumed and taken to the home villages for burial. The coffins were marked with the names of the dead.

Funerals in northern Israeli towns proceeded throughout the fighting, though they were sometimes disrupted by rocket fire. But because of the war in Lebanon, it sometimes took more than 24 hours to bring the bodies of soldiers to Israel for burial, the army said. Jewish law requires burial within 24 hours after death.

In the Lebanese village of Srifa, 19km east of Tyre, more than 20 people were buried in a mass grave on Friday. Airstrikes damaged a large swath in the village center.

In Qana, the dead were buried in individual graves one beside the other.

Women broke into piercing screams as the 29 coffins were carried shoulder-high to the grave site, about a third of a mile from the two-story home blasted by an Israeli missile on July 30. World outrage caused Israel to announce a 48-hour halt in aerial attacks while it investigated the assault after Lebanese authorities initially said 56 people were killed.

Hezbollah flags were planted in the mound of earth scooped from the graves. Scores of cars paraded through Qana waving large Hezbollah flags. Banners stretched across the main street read in English: "The great Lebanon has defeated the murderers."

Arabic language banners called the war dead "martyrs" and said civilian deaths in Qana "woke up the world."

The dead were all from the Shaloub and Hashem families of Qana.

Fatin Shaloub, a 23-year-old English teacher, lost several members of her family.

"I also lost five of my students," she said. "We didn't think the war would be horrible like this."

Hourra Shaloub, 12, was one of her favorite students and not just because she was a relative, Shaloub said.

"She was very, very smart. She always got top marks. I remember when I heard about the bombing and her death that I recalled her in a play three years ago. That's how I will always remember her, wearing her blue skirt and white T-shirt and singing very loudly," she said.

Standing on a platform overlooking the grave site in Qana, the Hezbollah chief in southern Lebanon, Sheik Nabil Kaouk, accused the US of being "a partner" in Israeli attacks by supplying the Israeli army and airforce with sophisticated weapons.

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