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Returning Lebanese Rebury the Dead

LIANE HANSEN, host:

There were mass burials across southern Lebanon this weekend as Lebanese were finally able to recover the bodies of those hastily buried in mass graves during the fighting. More than 250 bodies will be buried in funerals that are honoring the dead as martyrs in the war against Israel.

In the port town of Tyre, a mass grave holding 163 bodies was dug up and the bodies claimed by their families. NPR's Jamie Tarabay was there.

(Soundbite of bulldozers)

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

They've been here since the morning: bulldozers clearing bright orange dirt that covered 163 wooden coffins. Municipal workers and relatives of those buried beneath dug, using shovels to clear the dirt and spraying rose water to cover the stench of rotting flesh.

They slide a coffin into a waiting ambulance. Civil defense spokesman Hassan Asa(ph) says the body inside was that of an 11-year-old boy. He holds five or six papers stapled together, lists of names and numbers of those buried here. He calls out their names.

Mr. HASSAN ASA (Lebanese Civil Defense Spokesman): (Through translator) Hassan Kamal(ph), 13 years old. Suha(ph), Mirna(ph), Zara(ph). These are not fighters. Alia(ph), Hoda(ph). They're children. Lola(ph), Marwa(ph).

TARABAY: Then he reads their ages: four months old, seven years old, nine, 80, 85. Standing beside an ambulance is 21-year-old Hussain Jaffar(ph). His goatee is dripping sweat onto an already-drenched black shirt. He says he's been here since 9:30 this morning to pick up the bodies of two of his cousins.

Mr. HUSSAIN JAFFAR (Tyre, Lebanon): (Through translator) One is 21, the other around 35. They died on the fifth day of the bombing in Basaria. A bomb fell on them.

TARABAY: Jaffar and his cousins were in Basaria, a hilltop village 15 minutes west of Tyre. He says there were about 130 people seeking shelter in the town's large reception hall. It was rocketed in an Israeli attack. The two cousins were killed, and 20 others were wounded.

Mr. JAFFAR (Through translator) We lost two of our most beloved. Now there's nothing left in life. It didn't even take them a second to die.

(Soundbite of men working)

TARABAY: The relatives and neighbors of Fousi Jaffar(ph) wrap a thick sheet of plastic around his coffin. One man says there's too much blood at the bottom and tells others watching to stand back because of the smell. There are dozens of others doing the same thing around them. For one man, it's too much, and he collapses as he weeps for his father.

(Soundbite of man weeping)

TARABAY: Once both coffins are in the back of the ambulance, the men set off in a convoy to the village, sirens blaring.

(Soundbite of ambulance siren)

TARABAY: Waiting at the house of Fousi Jaffar is his wife, his three children, and all their female relatives. They stand sobbing quietly, and one woman sings. But as the ambulance pulls into the village, they are unable to hold back.

(Soundbite of women mourning)

TARABAY: Not too far away from the grieving women, 56-year-old Camilla Hudris(ph) sits under a canopy of plump, purple grapes in near quiet. She has clear blue eyes and the look of someone who has lived through many wars and seen many die.

Ms. CAMILLA HUDRIS (Lebanese Woman): We want to rest. God willing, this will be the last war. Lebanon didn't beat Israel, it beat America. America is feeding Israel and fighting us because the Israeli people are like us. They want peace, not war. They have children too that they don't want to lose.

(Soundbite of prayer call)

TARABAY: As she speaks, the call to prayer rings out across the village.

(Soundbite of call to prayer)

TARABAY: Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, in Tyre, Lebanon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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