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Four children and the cost of war

By Cal Perry

Nuhader Monsoor cries over her wounded baby, Maria.


In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.



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Hospitals and Clinics
Middle East

TYRE, Lebanon (CNN) -- The last time I sat down to write something, it was about the cost of war. As I looked ahead to the coming days, the last words I wrote were: Who will die?

Today, I found out.

Standing in front of this 8-year-old boy lying in a hospital bed, the "conflict in the Middle East" and the "cost of war" seem endless and suffocating. His pain cannot possibly be imagined as he shakes uncontrollably in and out of shock. He has blood coming from his eyes.

His name is Mahmood Monsoor and he is horribly burned. In the hospital bed next to him is his 8-month-old sister, Maria -- also burned. Screaming at the top of her lungs is the children's mother, Nuhader Monsoor. She is standing over her baby, looking at her son -- and probably thinking of her dead husband. The smell of burned flesh is overwhelming.

This story, for the Monsoor family, started out as a typical one, probably one that most of us have experienced. They had simply gone on a family vacation to some lovely sunny beaches, but these beaches were in southern Lebanon.

The six of them, like thousands of others, were fleeing the fighting -- trying to get north, waving white flags, when an Israeli bomb or missile slammed into their car. (Watch how the littlest victims are suffering -- 2:54. Viewer discretion is advised.)

The father, Mohammed Monsoor, was killed instantly. His children all were wounded. His wife, who is now crying over two of the wounded children, was in the best physical condition. But as would be the case for any mother and wife, her life, in many ways, ended the minute the car exploded into flames.

The other two Monsoor children, Ahmed, 15, and Ali, 13, are in surgery. Doctors can't tell me if they will make it. They walk away, their heads shaking. Optimism is not a word that breathes truth in this place.

There are more than enough stories like this, in hospitals across southern Lebanon. This hospital, on this day, seems to be a microcosm of the region. Less than 100 meters from the front door of the hospital, a car is on fire. Less than 30 minutes earlier, the car exploded as an Israeli jet circled overhead. The fog of war has crept into the hospital, and no one knows where the casualties of that strike are being treated.

Just days earlier, staff at this hospital were moving bodies out to make room for more. Like an assembly line of the dead, unless the bombings stop, they will be doing the same tomorrow.

The city of Tyre has been enduring stories like this for more than a week. Buildings are crumpled; those who have not left are hiding in basements. Those who dare to pack into cars run the risk of ending up like the Monsoor family. Some who move north die on the road. Some stay in basements, and die there. Others hope against hope that the bombs will fall elsewhere -- missing them.

Politics creeps into the ward like the blood that runs on the floors. "Clearly he is Hezbollah," says one of the doctors outside the room -- sarcastically referring to 8-year-old Mahmood, whose screams can be heard from the hallway. His screams now blend with the wails of his mother, matching the baby's cries.

The hospital ward begins to teem with members of the international press. They all have blue flak jackets that say "press" on the front. They carry microphones, cameras, radios and satellite phones, and have local guides to translate.

Today, as I finish I am sitting in the same spot and the shells are still falling. Hezbollah rockets are firing toward northern Israel. I can imagine another reporter, in another flak jacket, standing over an 8-year old Israeli boy.

I'll finish by asking another question: Are any of us making a difference?

Tomorrow, I'll let you know.

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