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Monday, August 07, 2006

Keep an eye on Houla hoopla

See update below.

This morning, something happened in the Lebanese border village of Houla. Some people probably died. But it looks like this may easily be another Qana, and news organizations should be more skeptical now before publishing outrageous claims.

Here are the claims, from the Lebanese prime minister:
An Israeli attack on a Lebanese border village killed more than 40 people Monday, the prime minister said, raising the day's death toll to 55 in heavy fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas despite efforts toward a cease-fire.

Saniora said the attack occurred in the village of Houla, where heavy ground fighting between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli has been raging in recent days. The Israel army said it is checking the claims about Houla but repeated that residents in villages in southern Lebanon had been warned to leave.

Local TV stations also had reported that about 40 people were buried under the rubble of houses that collapsed after being targeted by Israeli airstrikes.

"An hour ago, there was a horrific massacre in the village of Houla in which more than 40 martyrs were victims of deliberate bombing," he said.

Saniora ripped Israel's attacks, saying: "If these horrific actions are not state terrorism then what is state terrorism?"


Right before his claims, the wire services were reporting the possibility that dozens were trapped underneath rubble from buildings that collapsed. To go from that to the certainty that more than 40 had died seems very, very fast.

Saniora has motive to exaggerate. It is clear that Hezbollah is pressuring him and his ministers to adhere to the terrorist line (notice his reference to the victims are "martyrs.") No information leaves southern Lebanon until Hezbollah allows it to leave. And, like Qana, Houla seems to be a center of Hezbollah activity, and inflating casualty figures can give Hezbollah fighters there a break from the constant battles over the past few days.

Also, with what we've learned about Hezbollah and its preparations over the past six years, along with Syrian activities, it is a reasonable assumption that Hezb is running an effective "secret service" operation throughout Lebanon, terrorizing those who disagree with it and setting itself up for a political takeover backed by KGB-like tactics.

No doubt, Sinioira's claims are newsworthy, but to accept them as fact until real reporters have a chance to go and see for themselves would be irresponsible journalism.

UPDATE:
U.N. peacekeepers at a post near Houla reported Hezbollah fired rockets toward Israel twice Monday from positions near the UNIFIL base.
UPDATE 2:
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Monday that one person was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the southern village of Houla, not 40 as he had earlier reported.

"The massacre in Houla, it turned out that there was one person killed," Reuters quoted Siniora as saying. "They thought that the whole building smashed on the heads of about 40 people ... thank God they have been saved."

Siniora had earlier told Arab foreign ministers in Beirut that the attack "was a horrific massacre ... in which more than 40 martyrs were victims of deliberate bombing."

Saniora said he had based the initial tally on unspecified information that he had received, The Associated Press reported. He offered no other explanation for the error.