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WARFARE IN LEBANON

Deadly Strike Leaves Village Bewildered

A family of 12 is killed in what witnesses say was an Israeli air attack. Mourning neighbors wonder why the cleric's house was targeted.

July 14, 2006|Rania Abouzeid | Special to The Times

DWEIR, Lebanon — The pile of rubble and twisted metal was just a few feet high, providing few clues that it was once the three-story home of a family of 12.

Witnesses said a predawn Israeli airstrike killed a 41-year-old Shiite Muslim cleric named Adel Akkash, along with his wife and 10 children, during a wave of air assaults that began hours after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight.

"They retrieved them in pieces," said a young villager who identified himself only as Abdullah, describing how the corpses were dug from the rubble. "Now everyone will rise up against this massacre."

The Shiite village of Dweir, 12 miles north of the frontier with Israel, is a normally quiet hamlet.

On Thursday, however, there was fury and mourning as neighbors wondered why the Akkash home had been targeted.

"Why this house? It's full of children," Hassan Ramal, 41, said as he stood outside his closed restaurant on the village's main road. "This is what hardens people's hearts against the Israelis."

Israel's military said it had no information about the strike.

Dweir lies in the swath of southern Lebanon that is Hezbollah's heartland, and the militant group is well respected in the village. Streetlamps are adorned with posters of Hezbollah dead from conflicts past, and an imposing stone monument to the organization has pride of place in the center of town.

Throughout the hard-hit southern area, villagers said they believed that the Israeli strikes were directed at those with any kind of affiliation with Hezbollah, even an innocent one.

"He was a cleric, a respected man," Ramal said. "His only concern was religious teaching. There are other, more important people in the party here. Why him?"

The home was leveled by four missiles, but the rest of the village was unscathed.

"They didn't target anyone else in the town," Ramal said. "They wanted him."

Another onlooker, who identified himself only as Mahmoud, wondered why guerrillas from Hezbollah had attacked Israeli troops, bringing such retaliation down on the villages.

"Why did Hezbollah invite the Israelis in here to do something like this?" he said.

Hussein Naboulsi, a Hezbollah spokesman in Beirut, denied that Akkash was an official in the movement.

"He was just a regular cleric," Naboulsi said.

At Sheik Ragheb Hospital, workers described the aftermath of the strike. One of the cleric's children, a 3-year-old girl, was dismembered, they said.

Mourners gathered a few streets away at the home of Akkash's father, 68-year-old Mohammed Akkash. A dozen men sat on plastic chairs in the concrete front yard under a blue tarpaulin that rustled in the breeze.

Israel's military said in a statement that the air raids in southern Lebanon were aimed at Hezbollah's "operational command."

The elder Akkash said he could not understand why a home would be targeted.

"A house with 10 children, the youngest was 6 months old -- were they the resistance?" he asked. "Is a 6-month-old a resistance fighter?"

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