Israeli city buries civilians killed in random attacks

August 05, 2006|By TRACY WILKINSON | TRACY WILKINSON,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ACRE, Israel -- The last mourners were saying goodbye to Shimon Zribi and his young daughter, Mazal, their shrouded bodies buried side by side in dirt the color of henna. A few feet away, down a rocky hillside, women were already sobbing over another dead man, Albert Ben-Abu. One funeral hadn't even ended when another began.

Israel yesterday buried its dead, killed a day earlier in the Jewish state's single bloodiest day in more than three weeks of fighting.

Five of the dead were residents of this northern coastal city who had emerged from bomb shelters, thinking the coast was clear, only to be cut down by Hezbollah rocket fire; the other three were Israeli Arab youths who had leapt from their car for safety, only to take the direct hit that left not a scratch on their vehicle.

It is the randomness of the killing that so unnerves Israeli civilians in the danger zone, leaving them with a nagging sense of impotence and confusion. Three more civilians were killed yesterday in the unending Hezbollah barrages across the north.

"You just don't know what to do," said a bleary-eyed Moti Tamam, 45, whose brothers Aryeh, 51, and Tiran, 49, were among those killed Thursday. Moti marveled that he had stayed out of the bomb shelter to remain at home with their wheelchair-bound mother, while the other brothers nudged into the hot, cramped basement room, leaving it for a brief moment when they felt safe.

Yet it was Moti who survived.

The Tamams will not be buried until Sunday, beyond the usual 24-hour rule under Jewish law, because the family was awaiting the arrival of a fourth brother from Italy.

Still, the city's main cemetery had plenty of sadness to bear yesterday.

At the funeral for Shimon Zribi, 44, and his 15-year-old daughter, mourners clung to one another, sobbing between prayers as they gathered around the two bodies. "Why? Why?" cried one of Zribi's friends, a stocky man in a black T-shirt and matching yarmulke, as he knelt at the side of the grave.

Under a red-metal awning at the entrance to the graveyard, men on one side bobbed forward and backward. Women, on the other side, separated by a wooden partition, crumpled soggy tissues in their fists and moaned in anguish.

A government minister gave one eulogy, the mayor of Acre, Shimon Lankary, another.

"We did not want this war," Lankary said. "It was forced on us. We are a peaceful city, a city of Jews and Arabs, living together."

On Thursday afternoon, Zribi and his daughter ventured out to inspect the damage from a Katyusha rocket that had slammed into their Acre neighborhood. Seven minutes later, a second barrage killed them.

"I guess curiosity kills," said Yossi, Shimon Zribi's friend and co-worker from the local aluminum factory. Finally regaining his composure after breaking down at the grave, Yossi did not want his last name published.

Others at the funeral vowed that these deaths will not be in vain.

"This is the most terrible thing that can happen, civilians targeted, but the terror must end," said Shulamit Cohen, a family friend. "This is not just Israel's war - this is a global war."

Not 20 miles away, a mass funeral was being held in the Israeli Arab town of Tarshikha for the three local youths who were killed when they tried to take cover Thursday. In slatted wooden coffins, opened to expose the faces of the dead men, the three were mourned first in their homes, then, together, in the town's Muslim cemetery.

Mohammed Faur, a 17-year-old high school senior who wanted to be an engineer, was killed along with two friends, Shanati Shanati, 19, and Amir Naim, also 19, both of whom worked on their family farms.

The boys had grown up together, gone to school together and lived within a few blocks of each other. And they were buried together Friday, their bodies lowered into a pit ringed with wreaths of flowers wilted by the heat.

Tracy Wilkinson writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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