Friday, August 25

A Blast From The Past

In the blink of an eye...

(Click on logo above to view Flash animation)

This Flash animation was created using Photoshop to overlay successive frames of the 1996 Reuters Television video filmed by Reuters reporter Najla Abu Jahjah purporting to show a Lebanese ambulance being struck by a missile from an Israeli helicopter gunship after it passes through the UNIFIL Amriyya checkpoint near the village of Hinniyeh in southern Lebanon on April 13, 1996. Each frame was extracted from the CNN Quicktime movie using MPEG Streamclip, and placed in its own layer in Photoshop, with images aligned using the Difference layer mode. They were nudged into alignment, and then animated in Adobe ImageReady. As shown, the position of the ambulance at the time of the explosion is mapped to a position considerably above the road level in the subsequent scene, indicating that editing has occurred between the time we last see the ambulance, and the explosion.



(As shown, the yellow tower, the guard shelter, and the red car depicted in the scene just prior to the explosion are much closer to the camera than the smoke from the explosion. The ambulance car in the prior scene was located between the red car and the yellow tower, and now a white car and some black and white barrels block the road. Click on the image at right for additional Flash animation demonstrating this. This frame from the CNN web video has been enlarged 250%, and the color saturation boosted +70 using Photoshop. For some reason, the color in CNN's video is quite desaturated, despite it having been a sunny day.)

The CNN video (and a substantially similar video aired by Hizballah's Al Manar TV apparently also derived from the Reuters Television footage) purports to show the explosion hitting the ambulance, but it undoubtedly took at least a few minutes for the black and white barrels and the white car we see in the subsequent scene to be positioned across the road in the spot that we've just seen the ambulance car drive through.

The CNN narration concerning the explosion says:

"In the confusion and panic of the civilian rush to escape the Israeli onslaught, an ambulance weaves its way through the chaos... his vehicle filled with passengers. In the blink of an eye, it vanishes in a cloud of dense smoke ...targeted by an Israeli helicopter gunship."

THE WHITE CAR

The explosion, we are lead to believe, has just occurred, and the men running from the white car are presumably fleeing in fear from the Israeli assault, yet where was their car in the previous scene? And how did it get from there to where it is now in the presumably mere seconds that it took the ambulance car to drive the short distance down the road to where it was presumably struck, and where the smoke now is?

Even if the white car was where we see it parked now, and either just out of frame or hidden by the red car in the earlier scene, the last place we see the ambulance car before the explosion is between the red car and the yellow tower, and the smoke from the explosion in this next scene is farther down the road. Even accounting for the effects of a zoom lens, which makes the red car and the yellow tower appear to be in the same depth of field with the ambulance car, the smoke is unmistakably in a different place.

Immediately following the explosion, two guys in the white car jump out and run to the left --and close the car doors behind them? As the camera zooms out for a wider shot, we see another figure to the right of the white car running between the white car and the yellow tower in the direction of the camera. He, too, it appears, has bailed out of the white car and shut his door behind him. At the end of this shot, someone (it looks like a woman in a dark pantsuit) who's been standing next to the red car opens that car's door to get in.



FAMILY RUNNING

In the next scene, we see the family running towards the camera from down the road. As they approach, there are several things to notice. One, the smoke from the previous scene is completely dispelled, again showing that a significant number of minutes have been edited out. The white car that was parked near the tank trap and the black and white barrels is gone, again indicating that some time has elapsed.

In the background of this shot, particularly in the higher resolution still frame shown below (obtained from a jihadi site called jeeran.com), there appear to be two potholes or craters in the road that are in the approximate location where the smoke was seen originating from in the previous scene. And indeed in the previous scene, there appear what looks like two distinct plumes of smoke originating on the road. The craters in the road appear roughly in line with the overturned barrel in the foreground that is leaning against a post. We can see that this is the same post in the later scene because there is yet a third version of the Reuters Television video on the Web, which appears to contain much uncut footage, and which is downloadable in Real Video format from a jihadi site called salaheddine.net (Saladin) here.

Click on image at right to view a Flash animation demonstrating these points.

I will be examining the Saladin version of the video in greater detail later, as it shows scenes not present in the CNN or Al Manar footage. On the Saladin site's homepage, this video is featured in a sidebar titled "CAUGHT ON TAPE Israeli Terrorism on Tape CHECK IT OUT".

TWO MISSILES?

Not many of the news accounts, not even the contemporaneous written account by Najla Abu Jahjah of Reuters, claim that there were two missiles fired in this incident, but in a July 1998 interview with Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive magazine, British journalist Robert Fisk elaborated on the story of what has come to be known as the "Mansouri massacre":


Q: You also have done a lot of reporting on an Israeli attack on a Lebanese ambulance full of people. What was that story?

Fisk: It was the thirteenth of April, 1996. Abbas Jiha was a farmer and a volunteer ambulance driver for the village of Mansouri in southern Lebanon. On this day, he'd taken two trips to Sidon--first with a wounded man, then with a wounded baby. When Abbas returned to Mansouri, there was panic, shells were failing all around. People were saying, "Take us to Sidon, take us to Sidon." He put four of his children in the vehicle, he put another family in, and another guy, a window cleaner--in all there were fourteen people in the ambulance. He'd gotten up to the U.N. Post 123 on the main coast road. He was one-third of the way to safety in Sidon. So he goes through the checkpoint, and Reuters photographer Najla Abujahjah is standing there and sees the car go through and sees two helicopters. One of them comes down and starts chasing the car up the road. When helicopters start flying at vehicles, you know you're in trouble. They're coming up behind to fire a missile into the back of the vehicle. That's the way they do it.

Q: There'd be no denying that the helicopter wanted to hit this ambulance?

Fisk: Oh, absolutely not. They intended to hit it, they absolutely did. They fired two missiles. One didn't explode, the other did. It exploded through the back door, engulfing the vehicle in fire and smoke and hurling it twenty meters through the air. Abbas Jiha stood in the road beside one of his dead daughters, weeping and shrieking, "God is Great." He held up his fists to the sky and cried out, "My God, my God, my family has gone." He saw his two-month-old baby, Mariam, lying outside the ambulance, her body riddled with holes and her head full of metal. His five-year-old, Hanin, "was cut through with holes like a mosquito net," he told me. The Reuters photographer saw her collapse on the broken window frame, her blood running in streams down the outside of the vehicle. Abbas Jiha also lost his nine-year-old daughter, Zeinab, and his wife, Mona. "She was so terribly wounded, I couldn't recognize her face," he told me. Two other passengers died, a sixty-year-old woman and her eleven-year-old niece.


William Rivers Pitt of Truthout.org retold the story this way in a September 2004 web posting:

On April 13, an ambulance driver named Abbas Jiha was rushing patients to a hospital in Sidon. Civilians caught in the crossfire of 'Grapes of Wrath' begged him to take them to Sidon, and so he squeezed his wife, his four children and ten others into his ambulance. An Israeli helicopter targeted his ambulance and fired two missiles. The ambulance was blasted sixty feet into the air, and Jiha was thrown clear. When he made it back to the remains of his rig, he found his nine year old daughter, his wife, and four others dead within the flaming wreckage.


In her contemporaneous report on April 13, 1996, headlined "Six killed as Israeli rocket hits ambulance," reporter Najla Abu Jahjah, who filmed the incident for Reuters Television, described the scene she saw:


An Israeli helicopter rocketed an ambulance packed with refugees fleeing south Lebanon on Saturday, killing two women and four young girls.

The helicopter blasted the white Volvo stationwagon carrying people fleeing Israel's bombardment of the south in full view of Fijian troops of the U.N.'s UNIFIL peacekeeping force at this checkpoint in south Lebanon.

I saw the ambulance engulfed in a huge ball of fire about 20 metres (yards) from where I stood with a group of journalists at the checkpoint, followed by a powerful blast.

The rocket exploded beside the car, hurling it 20 metres off the road
, through a garden and into the front room of a house, destroying the room in an avalanche of falling stone and rubble.


Another report, also dated April 13, 1996 and headlined "Israeli rocket kills four children in ambulance," filed by Reuters reporter Andrew Tarnowski from Beirut gives a slightly different account, paraphrasing Jahjah:

"Four children were killed and six were wounded when an Israeli helicopter rocketed the ambulance they were travelling in to flee Israel's blitz of southern Lebanon on Saturday, witnesses said. Reuters reporter Najla Abu Jahjah, who witnessed the attack, saw the blood-covered bodies of four dead children being pulled out by rescuers from the ambulance which received a direct hit. She saw at least six wounded children. The attack took place near the village of Hinniyeh, eight km (five miles) south of the port of Tyre."


In addition to showing us the apparent craters in the road, the higher-resolution photos at the jeeran.com website allow us to identify the individuals running towards the camera in the "family running" scene. Based upon press accounts, we see self-described farmer and part-time ambulance driver Abbas Jiha (or Jihah, also called Abbas Mdeihli in one AP report by Doug Struck of the Baltimore Sun on April 14, and, inexplicably, called Khoder Ghazal, in a UPI report on April 13 that conflicts with most later written accounts and the Reuters Television video, see below), who is shown carrying both the body of his two-month old daughter Mariam (or Miriam), and his surviving son Mahdi (or Medhi), age 6. The other man shown running is either Abbas Jiha's cousin, Ali Ammar (or Amar), also reportedly a farmer, or, as identified in this report by the Hariri Foundation [PDF download], Mohamad Hisham, a window repairman. The girl running, unnamed despite being prominently featured in news reports, is probably 13-year-old Manar Fadi al-Khalid, based upon information in the Hariri report.

Click on the image at right for Flash animation identifying the family.



In her April 13 account, Reuters camerawoman Najla Abu Jahjah describes the scene:


We were taking pictures of villagers fleeing the village of Mansouri. They were among some 250,000 people forced to flee south Lebanon by Israel's three-day blitz of south Lebanon villages.

As the ambulance drove past the checkpoint, packed with refugees, an Israeli helicopter appeared in the sky. When it headed towards the checkpoint, journalists hid behind the checkpoint wall with the Fijian U.N. troops.

After the blast we looked for the ambulance but could not see it so we thought it had driven on. But moments later a man ran up, blood drenching his face and carrying a child in his arms.

He was followed by another man whose face was also covered in blood.
Then we saw the ambulance thrown into the house beside the road.


HINTS OF HIZBOLLYWOOD?

Do these men look wounded to you? Does anyone here look like they've just been in a serious automobile accident, much less escaped from the burning wreckage of an ambulance targeted by two (or even one) Israeli missiles?

Abbas Jiha has wounds or blood on his face in later scenes, but when he first appears, running up the road, the blood on his face is absent. Jiha may have blood on his face in the later scene as a result of embracing the bloody body he's carrying, but Jahjah's written account also says "blood poured from the men's faces". Where? Neither of the men look wounded.

On April 14, Doug Struck of the Baltimore Sun, reported for the Associated Press:

Earlier in the day, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired on an ambulance near the southern Lebanon city of Tyre, killing six civilians, including at least three children...

"It all happened in a second," said the ambulance driver, Abbas Mdeihli, who was treated for shoulder wounds. "I heard a wooshing sound. I was sucked out of the vehicle."


Abbas Mdehli, presumably the same individual as Abbas Jiha, is said to have been treated for shoulder wounds, yet there's no blood on his shirt in the later scene, and he seems to have no difficulty carrying bodies around, indeed he carried both his young son, and infant daughter for some considerable distance down the road. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people are certainly capable of extraordinarily feats of strength under stress, but one would expect that if he were wounded in the shoulder, there would at least be some blood.

Abbas Mdehli is at least a close name to Abbas Jiha, but an early UPI report on April 13 by Mohammed Darweesh, headlined "Lebanese ambulance driver tells horror" gives the ambulance driver's name as Khoder Ghazal, says he was interviewed not at the scene, but at a hospital in Tyre, and makes no mention of his being related any of those who were killed! This story also identifies the UNIFIL soldiers as Nepalese, rather than Fijian, and Ghazal claims they stood by and did nothing to help.

"Ambulance driver Khoder Ghazal thought he was doing a good turn by transporting villagers fleeing Israeli attacks in southern Lebanon. He never believed that Israeli helicopters would not even spare his ambulance. Ghazal, 35, was evacuating nine people from Mansouri, a village east of the southern port of Tyre, when an Israeli attack helicopter fired a missile at his vehicle. Ghazal, who was unharmed but shocked, said at a Tyre hospital that he only had time to dive out of the ambulance. His passengers were not so lucky. Six of them were killed and three were wounded. Among the dead were three sisters, aged 3, 5 to 10 years old. Since Israel began its offensive Thursday, it has repeatedly said its forces are trying to limit attacks to the Iran-backed Hezbollah guerrillas. But nearly all casualties have been inflicted on civilians, mainly women and children, Lebanese security sources said. Ghazal said the ambulance attack occurred near a post manned by Nepalese soldiers with the U.N. peacekeeping force. ''They did nothing,'' he said of the peacekeepers. ''There were at least two other people bleeding on the road and other dead people, but nobody sent an ambulance to rescue them.''"


The Saladin video shows UNIFIL soldiers helping to retrieve the bodies, and UN vehicles dispatched to the scene (not to mention the man identified in press reports as Abbas Jiha the ambulance driver and bereaved father helping alongside the UN troops to move the bodies), so one suspects at the very least whether Ghazal was at the scene at all. One wonders as well whether the hospital in Tyre where Ghazal was interviewed is the same one where, ten years later, a mysterious man named Abu Shadi would be showing off bodies to the press from his refrigerated truck...

What's more, on April 15th, Doug Struck of the Baltimore Sun filed a report from Samariye, Lebanon, headlined "Lebanese flee Israeli bombardment; 400,000 rush to Beirut on fourth day of assault," that includes this curious passage:

The Israeli effort seemed intended to minimize the public relations damage when a civilian-filled ambulance was hit by an Israeli missile Saturday. Graphic film broadcast internationally showed three dying children and three dead mothers, but Israel's unsupported claim was that the ambulance contained a Hezbollah guerrilla.

"Where is the Hezbollah in these children?" asked Dr. Jawad Najem, at a small hospital south of Tyre, as he pulled open the doors of the morgue where five of the victims lay yesterday. The bodies of the tiny children were entwined on one drawer shelf. No relatives remained uninjured to bury them.


Well, how about their father, ambulance-driving farmer Abbas Jiha, or Abbas Mdehli (or possibly even Khoder Ghazal) who was videotaped uninjured and carrying the bodies around only two days earlier, and whom you interviewed only yesterday, Mr. Struck?



THE HANDOFF

As seen in the apparently unedited Saladin video, why does Abbas Jiha stop running when he gets to the roadblock while the other man and the girl continue on ahead? Is it just because Jiha is at last tired from carrying both the infant and his son all the way down the road? Or is it because he's reached his "mark" for the next scene, in which he hands the infant off to the men in the white car and they proceed back down the road in the direction the family has just come? The infant, Mariam Jiha, has no bleeding that is visible even in the enlarged higher-resolution images from jeeran.com. Note also that, as shown in both the al-Manar and Saladin videos, baby Mariam inexplicably has the top of her coat pulled up over her face! From the way the baby's head is lolling, one might surmise that her neck is broken, but if it is, Abbas Jiha shows litle concern for cradling the baby in such a way as to protect her from further injury. Perhaps the baby is already dead and Abbas Jiha has covered her face for that reason, but if so, why the apparent rush to get her in the white car and presumably to a hospital?

See the Flash animation: Is this the way to treat a wounded baby?

Also, note that the white car that appears from nowhere in this handoff scene from the Saladin video is apparently the same one that was shown earlier with the men bailing out of it (see comparison at right). While they took care to close their cars doors behind them as they fled for their lives, they seem to have forgotten to close them completely this time, as the doors of the white car are already partially open when the car appears from out of frame on the right. If this is the same car as in the earlier scene, the car's appearance here at least explains its disappearance in the "family running" scene, and possibly the shutting of the car doors as well, as it apparently had to be turned around so that it could head back down the road.

And what of Abbas Jiha's son Mahdi, whom Jiha has carried for some reason down the road? A photo (from http://free.prohosting.com/poluld/Libanon.htm) shows what could be blood on Mahdi's leg. Apparently, Mahdi couldn't walk the distance. But like his namesake, the hidden 12th imam of Shia Islam, Mahdi vanishes before our eyes in this handoff scene, never to be seen again.

THE ISRAELI VERSION

Israeli military sources at the time said the vehicle was carrying a Hizballah terrorist. Chief of the Israeli Army's Northern Command, Major-General Amiram Levine, was quoted by Colleen Siegel of Reuters, in a report filed April 13 from the Israel-Lebanon border:

"The vehicle was sighted by the Israeli army and the terrorist was killed. According to reports by the other side there are children who were killed too. If children were killed I regret that but repeat and stress they were in an area from which the Hizbollah fires Katyushas and they were warned not to be there. We will continue hitting anyone who goes around in the places from which Hizbollah fires."


Colleen Siegel's story also contains this description of the video:


Reuters Television footage of the incident showed first a car clearly marked as an ambulance, then the vehicle engulfed in smoke, and finally the car wrecked and full of dead and dying women and children. The front seats were empty.


(More analysis forthcoming...)

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