Tyre, the morgue of south

TYRE — A stinging odour hangs over the Palestinian refugee camp of Bass, at the entrance to the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, the chosen site for a mass grave for the dozens of victims of Israel’s blistering bombardment of the area.

“Tyre has now become the morgue for the whole region,” says Tyre’s mayor Abdel Mohsen Husseini bitterly. On Wednesday afternoon, 26 corpses of civilians killed by Israeli bombardments were pulled out of a truck in the town square at the entrance of Bass, where thousands of Palestinian refugees live.

Soldiers and members of the civil defence, protected by masks and rubber gloves, opened the black plastic bags containing the corpses, searching their pockets for identity papers.

The bodies were rapidly decomposing and the stench is unbearable.

They are placed in wooden coffins, with their names, preceded by the title of “martyr”, marked in black on the lids which are quickly shut. They will eventually be placed in a temporary mass grave. Later perhaps, families can organise funerals at their own villages and bury their dead according to Muslim tradition, wrapped in a white shroud, the head turned towards the holy site of Mecca.

But two of the bodies will not be buried. One is that of an Indonesian housekeeper whose Kuwaiti employees were killed ten days ago.

“The remains will be sent to her embassy in Beirut,” said Raed Salman Zeineddine, the director of the local government hospital.

The second is the body of Nigerian United Nations employee Modupoela Bilikis, who was killed during an Israeli air raid which hit her building in Tyre a week ago. It took a long time to extract her body from under the rubble. According to her identity papers, she was born in Lagos in 1963.

“There are only three drawers in the hospital morgue,” says Zeineddine.

“We had to use refrigerated food trucks for the dozens of bodies that are brought in by the Red Cross and the Civil Defence on a daily basis from around the area,” he said.

The highly decomposed bodies are dealt with in the town square.

Others are placed in coffins in the hospital’s courtyard. Amongst them are ten bodies from a single family, a couple, the husband’s parents and six children, says Zeineddine.

Beside the trucks, the Palestinians — already struggling in impoverished conditions in the densely-packed refugee camp — cannot bear the stench of death anymore.

Nohad, in her fifties, is angry that she “can’t breathe, can’t sleep, can’t eat.” “Is it not enough that we live like sardines in the heat?,” she laments. “Do we also have to bear this horrible smell?” says the woman dressed in black, her head wrapped in a scarf.

But Nohad will have to endure the smell for a little longer as the deceased of the region of Tyre cannot be immediately laid to rest.

The mayor was due to oversee the burial Wednesday of 80 of them, 27 of which were killed in the raids on Qana Sunday, 12km east of the port city.

But the funerals were postponed after the Israeli air force carried out air raids on Wednesday at the entrance to Tyre.

The gaping hole in the ground, dug especially for the bodies, will remain empty a little longer, and the stench of death will continue to hang over the Palestinian refugee camp of Buss.

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