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thedrifter
08-11-06, 10:57 PM
'Green Helmet' Helps Rescue the Wounded
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Civil Defense Rescues the Wounded, Recovers the Dead; One Draws Controversy

Nutrional Information

Head of Operations for the Lebanese Civil Defense in Tyre, Salam Daher, 39, sits to be photographed in the town of Tyre in southern Lebanon Friday, Aug. 11, 2006. Salam Daher's green-helmeted head digging beneath bombed out buildings to retrieve the dead has been seen in news photographs from two wars, in 1996 and again in 2006, both times after Israeli bombings in the village of Qana. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)



TYRE, Lebanon (AP) - After hours of digging in the blistering heat, Salam Daher emerged from the wreckage with the body of a 9-month-old baby, a blue pacifier still pinned to its nightshirt.

He held the infant up and, click, an Associated Press photographer snapped another picture of Daher, in his trademark green helmet, displaying a civilian victim of Israeli bombs for the world to see.

Daher, a member of the civil defense for 20 years, has been photographed with bodies of the dead in two wars now - first in 1996 and most recently with the baby on July 30 -- both times after Israeli attacks in the village of Qana six miles southeast of the city.

For that reason, some Web sites have labeled him the "Green Helmet," and accused him of being a member of the Hezbollah guerrilla group, and of showing off bodies as propaganda.

"But that isn't true," he told The Associated Press. He is not affiliated with any party, he said. "I am just a civil defense worker. I have done this job all my life."

Daher said he started when he was 19 years old, and now heads operations of the civil defense for the southern port city of Tyre and the surrounding region. It is a government job, part of Lebanon's interior ministry. When bombs strike, he races his ambulance along narrow country roads, digs through rubble and tries to save the living from flattened buildings.

Friday found him returning from Maarub, about 12 miles out of Tyre, with the International Committee of the Red Cross. He told a reporter he had been trying to rescue a family of four believed buried beneath the rubble of an abandoned, six-story orphanage hit by missiles. The debris proved too difficult to remove, and no one, alive or dead, was recovered, he said.

When bombs strike, he said he is often the one who takes the phone call alerting the civil defense to an emergency, and he is often part of the first team to reach the site.

The baby at Qana died when Israeli missiles slammed into a house - a response, Israel said, to rockets that Hezbollah fired from nearby. The building collapsed on two families that had taken refuge inside. Twenty-eight bodies were recovered - more than half of them children.

The recovery, as witnessed by an AP team that arrived at the scene along with other journalists, was exhausting, heart-rending work. Because of debris from earlier Israeli airstrikes, ambulances could not reach the site. Rescue workers, tired and sweating, ran uphill to the ambulances with bodies of women and children on stretchers.

After hours of digging, Daher emerged with the youngest victim. In a parched voice, he shouted something in Arabic and held the child up for the photographer.

To many in the West, such photographs are surprising; but they are not unusual in the Middle East, where grief and drama are often intertwined, and that can include displaying of bodies.

Bloggers have accused rescue workers and volunteers of showing off victims for the media. The Lebanese make no apologies for wanting the world to see the civilian suffering in the Israeli onslaught aimed at uprooting Hezbollah.

Ten years ago, on April 18, 1996, Daher was one of the first to arrive in Qana after Israeli artillery slammed into a U.N. compound where 800 Lebanese had taken shelter. The attack killed 106 people and wounded another 116.

There, Daher was photographed holding up the mutilated body of a child, one of many victims he carried out that day.

"I took the emergency call and was the first one to go," he remembered. "First there were 40 injured we took out and then I saw the dead people in the camp. The compound was full of wood and there were bodies hanging from the roof because of the force of the bomb I guess."

The 1996 attack was "more horrible, a lot more people" than the latest attack, he said.

In normal times, Daher's civil defense team in Tyre has 30 members who help with firefighting, car accidents and other emergencies. Now there are only 15 because the others have fled north from the conflict - stretching his team to the limit.

Fadi Kayyal, a member of the Tyre civil defense team for seven years, has worked with Daher on many emergencies. Recently, before the Israeli offensive began July 12, they put out a raging bush fire. "We worked day and night for two days," he said.

In 2002, "there was a big bus and car accident and there were 20 people on the bus," Kayyal said. "We rescued 17 people with injuries and two died."

Daher was born in Marjayoun, the son of a construction engineer. He began hanging around with defense workers when he was just a boy, working as a volunteer when he was 12. He began civil defense work as an apprentice in 1986 and worked his way up the ranks.

"There was no school or anything that I went to for my job," he said. "I was assigned to a team and I learned from them."

In 1996, he moved to Tyre, a city where Hezbollah's influence is weaker than other parts of the south because of the power of more secular Shiite parties.

He married in 1995 and is the father of three sons aged between 4 and 10 years old.

He puts his life on the line whenever he answers a call, with defense teams often unable to reach bombardment sites because of continued Israeli strikes.

"I have to do my work," he said. "I worry, but this is my work."

Ellie