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 May 2000 - Return to Complete Index    MiddleEast.Org         5/24/00
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A Gunmetal blue Mercedes snaked its way below the escarpment marking the border between Israel and Lebanon. It stopped for a minute or two, then disappeared in a ball of fire - blasted by an Israeli tank lurking in trees 200 yards away. A few hours later I discovered my personal connection with the vehicle.

It was the second car I had seen the Israelis destroy in ten minutes yesterday. Their pride hurt by the rout of their forces and those of their allies in the South Lebanon Army, who were fleeing back into Israel, and by the defiant flags of Hezbollah that fluttered over the border hamlets they had fled, this was payback time.

I was to learn that they were shooting at Jeremy Bowen, the BBC correspondent, and his Lebanese cameraman. Inside the car, Abed Taboush, a veteran driver and "fixer" known and loved by hundreds of journalists who had been taken under his wing over 25 years, was dead.

I first met Mr Taboush in January. It was the finest contact a novice could make. A guarded attitude gave way to enormous warmth. He insisted that I meet his family. In the hours between risky trips through South Lebanon's tribal maze, Abed would clutch a cold beer and render his listeners tearful with laughter at his irreverent descriptions of our colleagues.

I last sat beside him on Sunday when he drove me to Beirut airport. He told me then that he feared his luck would run out. "I have been so lucky all my life," he said.

His car was well-known to the Israelis. Two weeks before he was killed, he and I were in Mjdal Zun when Israeli gunners shelled us for 40 minutes.  "They know me! They know me!" he said with a smile.

He had driven through artillery bombardments, braved helicopter cannon fire to bring his cameramen into the heart of hundreds of battles. But his wife and friends had begged him to stay away from the south during the Israeli retreat.

In 1996 he was the first into the Qana massacre, when Israeli gunners killed 130 people queueing for bread at a UN bakery. In the same month he carried the 11 dead of one family out of the cellar where they had been killed by an Israeli "bunker-buster" bomb.

Yesterday I watched what amounted to his execution. Mr Bowen told of how he and Mr Taboush had stopped to film us: the group of spectators with ringside seats on the front line. "I got out of the car with the cameraman and waved my arms so that the Israelis could see that we were not armed. I was wearing a pink shirt [unusual attire for a Hezbollah fighter]," he said.

Then a massive explosion ripped Mr Taboush's car apart and the Israelis used the tank's machinegun to try to kill the rest of the BBC crew. At Menara, a religious kibbutz, soldiers said that "two terrorists" has escaped and they were trying to gun them down. A Red Cross team that tried to retrieve Mr Taboush's body also came under fire.

I had spoken to Mr Taboush and Mr Bowen yesterday morning. They were in good spirits. "Be careful, stay safe," I said.

FROM SAM KILEY IN MENARA - The Times, London - 5/24/00

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