Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Monday night apologised for wrongly claiming that over 40 civilians had died in Israeli shelling in the village of Houla.
But the death toll of civilians on Monday stood at 49. This includes at least 15 who died in a building that collapsed after an Israeli bomb landed on it. The building is located in the Chiyah district of southern Beirut.
Meanwhile, Siniora rattled out another chilling statistic: The overall toll since hostilities began has touched 1000.
Aiman Shehadi was one of the volunteers retrieving bodies from the Chiyah rubble. He said: “I heard someone say that only 15 people were killed. I myself have counted 26 bodies and there are over 20 still trapped inside.” As Aiman spoke, the body of another child was retrieved.
“I have been here since last night and we haven’t stopped trying to find persons who might still be alive but all we find is someone’s dismembered head or hand,” Shehadi said.
Strewn across the street were the remains of what were once happy homes: family photographs, ruined mattresses and toys. Sniffer dogs tried their best to smell flesh.
A significant poster was seen flying around amidst the debris. It said: “Here is how Bush and Rice support Lebanese democracy.”
For the first time, Israel targeted an area that was not traditional Hezbollah terrain. Though it houses primarily Shia Muslims, Chiyah is considered to be the stronghold of the Amal movement (a political party that is backed by the Hezbollah, but is not connected to its military wing). A fear of the strike hitting a sensitive Beirut nerve became intense, as the street that was bombed happened to be quite close to the Christian eastern district.
Chiyah also gave refuge to many who had fled from the south. Hassan Jaffer, one of Beirut’s many refugees, had sought shelter at a cousin's place in Chiyah. He shouted angrily, “Where should we go now? They made us run away from our homes and now we will have to run away from here.”
Even though the strike is not believed to have come with a warning, there is the added fear that Chiyah’s residents join Beirut’s ever-increasing number of refugees.