Villagers force open notorious Khiam detention camp
May 24, 2000
Khiam - Scores of villagers used rifle butts and their bare hands yesterday to free about 100 detainees jailed in south Lebanon's dreaded Khiam prison after its pro-Israeli guards abandoned it and fled.
The mostly Shia Muslim residents of Khiam stormed the notorious detention camp, where, rights groups alleged, about 160 men, women and children were subjected to torture and appalling privations.
Israel's South Lebanon Army, which operated the prison, has disintegrated over the past 48 hours as Israel began to end its 22-year occupation of south Lebanon.
Guards at Khiam left the jail in a convoy of about 20 civilian cars, leaving behind tanks, armoured personnel carriers and ammunition to be seized by the victorious villagers.
"Freedom! Freedom!" screamed a white-haired prisoner after villagers broke down his cell door with their bare hands. "We're actually free at last."
Overjoyed prisoners, some detained since the late 1980s, fainted with emotion on seeing their relatives.
"I'm an engineer, I've been here for four years. They've also arrested my wife, my child, my mother and my sister, but now it's all over," said a man who gave his name as Ali, tears streaming from his one good eye. "Our people released us. The resistance has released us. We are all resistance. Long live Hezbollah."
Human-rights groups have excoriated Israel and the SLA for holding prisoners in Khiam without trial. The compound, its buildings topped with barbed wire, often echoed with the screams of people being tortured.
According to the Lebanese Follow-Up Committee for Detainees in Israeli Jails, electrocution and beating were routine procedures during the SLA interrogations. It said detainees were often hung from posts for hours, and beaten with steel rods on their heads and genitalia.
Most of the detainees were arrested by the SLA on charges of aiding Hezbollah guerrillas or fighting alongside them.
Khiam was a Lebanese army barracks before the SLA transformed it into a detention centre in 1985. Hundreds of villagers from throughout the zone have served time there. Yesterday provided them a chance to take revenge.
Gaunt prisoners helped villagers destroy the compound. Doors were broken open, windows shattered and most of the Hebrew-inscribed equipment abandoned by the SLA was smashed to pieces.
"God damn them, God damn them," screamed a man as he bashed a desk with his rifle butt.
Karam returns home to Khiam
By Alia Ibrahim
Daily Star, May 26, 2000
Health Minister Karam Karam was given a hero's welcome on Thursday when he returned to his hometown of Khiam for the first time in more than two decades.
Karam, the son of Shukrallah Karam, who was the first to be martyred by the Israelis when they invaded in 1978, was greeted with tears, hugs, flowers and rice.
His first stop was at the village graveyard, where he placed flowers on his father's grave and prayed for him. Old women rushed to the minister, holding his hand, hugging him and telling him the many stories they remembered about his late father. "Your father was killed because he refused to leave us," they told him.
"Although I couldn't come, Khiam was always in my heart," he replied. On his visit to Khiam prison, Karam was accompanied by Lebanese Red Cross Director Salim Layoun, World Health Organization representative Habib Latiriby and Italian Ambassador Giuseppe Cassini, who came with a delegation from Italian non-governmental organizations.
This detention center, which within hours of its liberation became a site for tourists, lived up to its notorious reputation. The prison included small dark cells, torture chambers and a closet-like space sealed with wire and a piece of paper on its door. It read: "The sun room: open for 20 minutes every 20 days."
Speaking to the reporters, Karam said the prison could be turned into a rehabilitation center offering counseling to former inmates.
Another part of the tour included the South Lebanon Army-run Marjayoun hospital, where Karam met the director, Khairallah Madi. The medical staff has stayed and the equipment is still intact, but Madi said that the hospital urgently needed an ambulance and medicine. Karam said that the Marjayoun hospital and 96 other medical centers in the area will receive substantial medical supplies.
He added that an agreement was signed with the WHO to establish an institute to train medical workers. The Lebanese Red Cross will also provide mobile clinics for emergencies, Karam said. Another problem is that the hospital's personnel received part of their wages from the SLA.
Karam requested that the workers keep providing medical assistance
to the citizens and promised to recommend at next week's Cabinet
session that the hospital receive a loan.