Tragedy mars escape from besieged Lebanon village
by Sammy Ketz 2 hours, 1 minute ago
JEB JANNIN, Lebanon (AFP) - As she was preparing to flee from her native village of Marjayun, Violette Ablah had insisted on taking with her the essential ingredients used by any good Lebanese coo
Now her four jars of olive oil-drenched cheese and a dozen damaged boxes of tahini (sesame paste) lie in a Mercedes with a flattened roof, smeared with blood.
Violette, her daughter and her brother-in-law were part of a convoy of vehicles carrying 4,000 mainly Christian refugees fleeing their village of Marjayun when they were attacked on Friday by Israeli air strikes.
The convoy of 1,300 cars, which included 350 soldiers whose barracks had been occupied by Israeli soldiers a day earlier, was heading towards Beirut via the Bekaa Valley.
In the middle of Lebanon's famous vineyards, at the junction between Jeb Jannin and Kefraya, two Israeli drones launched eight rockets at around 2130 (1830 GMT) at the convoy, killing seven people and wounding 36 others, including a Lebanese soldier and rescue worker.
"I had the feeling of being crushed, then being ejected into the air and finally being shattered by a shockwave," said Violette's daughter Abir, 29, lying in the bed next to her mother's at the Farhat hospital in Jeb Jannin.
Both women have broken jaws and could hardly speak.
Other survivors of the convoy attack were thunderstruck.
"I can't explain it. The only thing I can say is that it is totally incomprehensible," General Adnan Daoud, who leads the 350-strong joint police and army force whose barracks was occupied by
Israel on Thursday, told AFP.
Daoud spent all of Friday negotiating the departure of the convoy. Early in the morning, troops from the
Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had arrived to escort the column of vehicles towards Hasbaya in the south of the Bekaa Valley.
Then, UNIFIL announced that Israeli forces had bombarded the road and that the convoy had to wait.
After negotiations with the United Nations, the Lebanese interior minister told General Daoud that the Israeli forces had given a green light to make the trip, and he was given assurances that nothing would happen to the convoy.
"The minister told me to take to the road, and I left at the head of the column of 1,300 cars," he said.
"When we got to the intersection of Kefraya and Jeb Jannin, a drone fired four rockets. There were dead people and wounded everywhere. It was complete panic," Daoud said.
Cars tried to escape by the Jeb Jannin road, but a second drone destroyed several stationary vehicles at the entrance of the famous "Chateau Kefraya" vineyard.
"We followed the road they (the Israelis) chose. We didn't deviate by one bit. We had been authorized to go. No one was armed, since they confiscated all our weapons before leaving the barracks," said Daoud.
"I don't understand anything. All I know is that innocent people died," he said.
On Saturday, the survivors, their suitcases full, resumed their journey towards the capital.
"We spent the night in the open air, but anyway after yesterday's nightmare, we could not sleep," said an elderly man who was part of Friday's convoy.
"May God grant us life until we reach Beirut," he said, visibly moved.
"They left Marjayun, leaving everything behind to save their life. But their life was taken from them," said Greek Orthodox Archbishop for south Lebanon Elias Kfouri.
"It is a crime committed by the Israelis while the United Nations was voting for a ceasefire. It defies humanity," he added.
The Israeli military said the convoy had been bombed after it "identified suspicious movement along a route forbidden for travel which had been used by Hezbollah to transport rockets and other weaponry."
"It is important to note that a request for the passage of the convoy was submitted to the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) coordination apparatuses prior to its departure and was not authorized," the army statement said.