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A year later, survivors carry scars of Qana massacre

April 16, 1997

QANA, Lebanon (AP) _ Lina Taqi, 7, walks with a limp, moves her left arm with difficulty and rarely speaks. Her father is dead.

Hers is but one of the lives shattered a year ago when Israeli artillery slammed into a U.N. peacekeeping base packed with civilians who had taken refuge from a bombing blitz aimed at Lebanese guerrillas.

About 100 people were killed _ no one knows the number for sure because many victims were blown apart when the 155mm shells rained down. Some 100 people also were wounded at the U.N. compound, seven miles north of Israel’s border.

For Israel, the slaughter of Lebanese civilians was an ``unfortunate mistake.″

However, Israeli Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, the army’s chief artillery officer who headed an investigation into the shelling, blamed Hezbollah guerrillas for using the U.N. base as a shield to attack Israel and Israeli troops.

The U.N. commander, Gen. Stanislaw Wozniak, called the attack unacceptable.

``Simply, you don’t attack civilians. You don’t attack U.N. positions,″ he said.

For the Lebanese, the barrage was an act of deliberate terror aimed at punishing civilians for Israel’s failure to stop attacks by Shiite Muslim guerrillas fighting to push Israeli occupation forces from south Lebanon.

The April 18 Qana attack came during the biggest flare-up in violence since Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Israel hit the south with shells and air raids, and Lebanese guerrillas fired hundreds of Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.

Leading up to the Qana incident, 59 people had been killed, almost all Lebanese civilians, and 199 had been wounded. No Israeli civilians were killed; only one Israeli soldier died.

A year after the bombardment, the graves of Qana victims have been covered in black marble and decorated with portraits of the dead. The nearby hangar where the civilians sought safety has been left as it was _ with bits of shrapnel, broken furniture and burned cans on the floor.

Among the graves are those of Lina Taqi’s father, Ibrahim, 41, and an 8-year-old sister. Her mother, Mounira, was wounded in the legs and believes she survived because her husband took the brunt of the explosion.

``He was in front of me, talking to me. Then boom! Shrapnel cut his throat and he dropped,″ said the veiled woman, wearing a black robe in mourning.

``My child was on my lap and then she vanished. Shreds of her pajamas were all that was left,″ she added, sitting in the family home beneath photos of those slain.

Lina was barefoot and eating an apple as her mother talked. She has undergone six months of treatment in Britain for a shrapnel wound in the right side of the head. Her left arm and leg are partly crippled. She slurs and can say only a few words, one of them ``tawareh″ _ the word for U.N. peacekeepers in the local Arab dialect.

``She wakes up at night, shaking, lost and hallucinating, sometimes wetting herself,″ said her mother.

The Taqi family had fled to the U.N. compound in Qana from their home in Jebal Buttum, about 15 minutes away by car. Others had run away from a string of nearby villages.

Live coverage of the Qana carnage moved international public opinion and helped lead to a cease-fire on April 27. The truce _ which urged guerrillas not to fire from civilian areas and Israel not to hit civilian targets _ has largely been observed. Six civilians have been killed in south Lebanon in the last year.

But fighting has persisted in the 440-square-mile zone that Israel occupies north of its border, about one-tenth of tiny Lebanon’s territory.

Since last April, the guerrillas have killed 28 Israeli soldiers. Also slain were 14 fighters from Israel’s proxy Lebanese militia, 30 from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and 12 from other groups fighting Israel’s occupation.

Over the past year, the Israelis have expanded the safety ring around positions of the nine-nation peacekeeping force, a move aimed at avoiding a recurrence of the artillery attack.

But for many, no measure can erase the horrid memories. In the village of Siddiqine, Fatima Balhas, 25, says she is still undergoing physiotherapy for a wounded arm. She lost her husband, three sons _ ages 2, 3 and 17 days _ and a teen-age brother.

``The shelling stopped and I looked around and there was no one,″ she recalled, breaking into tears.

As Balhas spoke, her 45-year-old mother, Hasna, burst into the room weeping and carrying a photograph of her slain son. ``Let God’s wrath descend on them,″ she screamed, then added a stream of curses at Israel.

``What they’ve done will not be forgotten for generations,″ said her husband, Adel, 50.

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