Anger, grief as Hizbollah town buries dead

DEIR QUANUN AN-NAHR, Lebanon — The low murmur began as the coffins were taken from waiting vans and hoisted onto the shoulders of dozens of young men. By the time the nine corpses were carried half a kilometre to the cemetery in this southern Lebanese town, it had reached a crescendo of anguish.

Chants of “Hizbollah” became shrieks of grief among women gathered on balconies and rooftops of collapsed buildings, and even the hardest of the young men broke down. They pushed their way into the grim parade to put themselves among the pallbearers.

The Hizbollah bastion town of Deir Quanun An-Nahr on Saturday was burying still more of those killed in Israel’s devastating monthlong offensive against the Shiite group that ended in a volley of shells and bomb strikes last week.

The fighting left at least 1,287 people, nearly all civilians, dead in Lebanon and 4,054 wounded, according to an AFP count based on official figures. Hizbollah announced the death of 74 combatants.

After a fragile truce took effect on Monday, villagers began gathering their dead from piles of rubble that had once been homes, and from battlefields where the Muslim fighters had clashed with Israeli soldiers.

“Yesterday we had buried seven. Today we’re burying nine. There might be many more — we don’t know. We collect them on the way,” one mourner said while hundreds of others began to gather on a road before the funeral. Several fresh graves, including those of a mother and her two young sons, lay under Lebanese and Hizbollah flags.

The funeral detail is a purely Hizbollah affair. An “honour guard” of young men in black military uniforms and yellow Hizbollah caps had assembled earlier under the orders of older men shouting into two-way radios. They gathered in a line to receive the coffins before the slow climb to the cemetery.

The dead — eight fighters and one civilian — included an apparent senior member whose wooden casket was more elaborate than the pressboard coffins given to the others.

Each casket was draped in a yellow Hizbollah flag. Photos of the dead, young men staring stoically into the camera or kneeling dressed in fighters’ uniforms and armed with automatic rifles, were hastily taped to the front of each casket.

A four-wheel-drive vehicle adorned with portraits of Hizbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah led the procession. Young men zipped up and down the road on motorbikes with Hizbollah flags trailing behind.

Shops around Deir Quanun An-Nahr were shuttered and village life turned completely towards burying the dead. Young boys in camouflage army costumes played with toy guns, seemingly oblivious to the grief that surrounded them.

“Israel and America thought wrong. (Israel) came and then she ran away … but we’re still here,” said one area resident, Mariam Salhab. She stood beside a tangle of shattered concrete and twisted metal bars that had been her home in a village about 20 kilometres from here.

“This is our country. We are strong. This makes us, Hizbollah stronger,” she said, taking in the wreckage around her.

“Southern Lebanon — all the men, women, all the children — we are all Hizbollah.”

Beirut calls for strong showing at Sweden donors’ conference

BEIRUT (AFP) — Visiting Swedish Aid Minister Carin Jaemtin met Sunday with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora who called on a donors conference in Stockholm later this month to “work hard” to help Lebanon recover from Israel’s offensive.

“It is the duty of the international community to do whatever it can … and to work hard to save Lebanon,” Siniora said at a joint press conference with Jaemtin.

Lebanon suffered “major, major losses. The international community should come together in favour of Lebanon to save Lebanon from this calamity,” he said, Siniora said, adding that damage was “in the billions of dollars.” Jaemtin, minister of international cooperation and development, said details of the conference will be made public after allowing “donors some days, but very few days” to study the terms of their participation.

Before she departed, Jaemtin also met with Lebanon’s finance and economy ministers and toured Beirut’s war-battered southern suburbs, a stronghold of the Lebanese group Hizbollah.

Stockholm plans to host an international aid conference for Lebanon on August 31 with representatives of 60 governments and organisations invited, the Swedish foreign ministry has said.

The monthlong Israeli offensive which ended last Monday left at least 1,287 people dead and 4,054 wounded in Lebanon, according to an AFP count based on official figures. The large majority of casualties were civilians.

Lebanon’s state High Relief Committee has estimated damage inflicted by the offensive at $3.6 billion, with 15,000 homes, 80 bridges and 94 roads destroyed or damaged.

Lebanon already received emergency aid of $500 million from Saudi Arabia and $800 million from Kuwait. 

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