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Lebanese Recover Bodies, Dig Graves


The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah killed more than 1200 Lebanese, and many of those who were killed had to be hastily buried in mass graves during the fighting. Today, Lebanese families began recovering those bodies for reburial. In all, about 250 bodies were retrieved, most of them in the southern port city of Tyre.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay is in Tyre and she was at the scene of some of the mass graves, and joins us now. And Jamie, tell us what you saw today.

JAMIE TARABY reporting:

I was at the mass burial sites for 163 bodies. People, the dead, had been buried in wooden coffins and then been covered with this bright orange dirt. The coffins were all numbered and the names of the dead were written on the outside. Most of the people who were buried there were civilians.

A municipal woke who I spoke to showed me a list of all those who were being reclaimed today, and some of them were as young as six months old and others were as old as 85. And many of the names he read to me were female.

It was a very dreadful thing. It was rather miserable. Some of the bodies had been there for more than 20 days. The coffins were leaking fluids. Many were overcome and a lot of people were vomiting. And many people were crying. So many of these people here, it was really their first chance to grieve. You know, I think some people might have put off their emotions while just focusing on getting through the fighting and now they're actually faced with the reality of all the death.

I spoke to a 21-year-old man who'd come to find two of his cousins. And he said to me that it was only now that he realized that they were truly gone. All the dead were taken to their villages. All traveled in convoys that were covered with flowers and flags of Lebanon and Hezbollah. And there will be more tomorrow at this temporary site.

I spoke to someone who worked for civil defense and he said that there were still 64 bodies in refrigerators that would be taken out and reclaimed by their families tomorrow.

SIEGEL: And this, I assume, is happening elsewhere in southern Lebanon as well as in Tyre.

TARABAY: Yes, all in all, about 250 bodies were buried today throughout the south. There were funerals. And among the civilians that were being buried, there were also some Hezbollah fighters. We're still not clear on the number of Hezbollah dead, but there was a huge funeral in the village of Karnah(ph), the place where 27 people and more than half of them were children were killed in an Israeli airstrike. More than 5,000 people turned up to that funeral.

And also, in the village of Stratha(ph), which is not too far from Karnah, 30 people were buried. All in all, about 40 villages buried their dead today.

SIEGEL: Now, the UN cease-fire went into effect five days ago. And today the Lebanese army took up positions on the southern border for the first time in decades. That must be something very significant there.

TARABAY: That's right. It's nearly 40 years since the army's been down that far. Hezbollah's previously controlled the region and the army stayed clear. We've seen more and more Lebanese army troops moving into the south each day. We watch them arrive by the port here because the roads here are so badly damaged. And they've set up checkpoints in a lot of places. So if nothing else, they at least have a much more significant presence than they used to.

And we've also seen reports that the army's also begun setting up checkpoints near illegal border crossings with Syria and Israel to try to stop all of the arms smuggling that Israel has accused Hezbollah of conducting in the past.

SIEGEL: But I gather that the Lebanese army is not expected to attempt to disarm Hezbollah or to take away arms that still might be stored in the south.

TARABAY: Yeah, I don't really think that anyone believes that they will do that. You know, I was speaking to a Lebanese military official yesterday here. And he spoke to me on the condition of anonymity because they're not simply allowed to speak. And he said that, you know, half the army is either Hezbollah or supports Hezbollah anyway, so he didn't really anticipate any changes on the ground.

As it is, members of the Lebanese government have said that this is not going to be a confrontation. The army soldiers are not going to chase down Hezbollah fighters, they're not going to be raiding any houses looking for weapons. You know, Hezbollah will do as it's going to disappear off the streets and keep a low profile.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Jamie.

TARABAY: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Jamie Tarabay speaking to us from the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.