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Saturday, July 22, 2006

A bomb too many


Humanitarian toll hits southern Lebanon as violence continues

By Liz Sly
Tribune foreign correspondent
Published July 20, 2006, 8:42 PM CDT

BEIRUT -- Fears mounted Thursday that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in southern Lebanon as Israel sustained its intense bombardment of the area and U.S. Marines landed on the beaches near Beirut to help speed the evacuation of Americans from the war-zone.

Thousands of Lebanese were trying to flee the south after Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets warning people to leave, stirring fears that an Israeli ground invasion was imminent. But hundreds of thousands more remain stranded in villages and towns across the south, unable to leave their homes because of the intensity of the sustained Israeli bombing campaign.

United Nations and Lebanese officials warned of an impending humanitarian disaster unless food and medical supplies are allowed to reach the stricken area and called on Israel to establish a "humanitarian corridor" to allow aid to get through.

More than 300 people now have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded, most of them in the south, since Israel began its assault in response to the abduction of two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah guerrillas.

In Israel, 29 people have been killed, 12 of them soldiers, in Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel and in fighting between Hezbollah guerrillas and the Israeli army in the border region.

Hospitals in the south are overflowing with injured people, and ambulances are unable to reach victims in remote villages, leaving many to die unattended, said Lebanon's social affairs minister, Nayla Muawad.

"We are living a humanitarian disaster. People are in a desperate situation. They have no milk and medicines," she said. "Supplies are unable to reach the people."

Israel continued to pound southern Lebanon with artillery and air strikes and there were reports of fierce fighting late Thursday inside Lebanon between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli soldiers. Israel reported two soldiers were killed in the fighting.

Also, two of Israel's Apache attack helicopters crashed in northern Israel near the border with Lebanon, injuring four soldiers, the Israeli military told The Associated Press.

In the once teeming southern Beirut neighborhood of Haret Hreik, where Hezbollah had headquarters and where Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah lived, the massive scale of Israel's nine-day-old bombing campaign was chillingly evident.

Entire apartment buildings have been crushed, their contents spilled onto cratered, debris-strewn streets. The blackened stump of one pulverized building—struck the night before—still smouldered. The stench of cordite, an explosive, hung over the eerily empty remains of what was once a bustling, densely populated community.

In front of the wreckage of Nasrallah's apartment building, stray sheets of Hezbollah notepaper were entangled in the detritus of ordinary people's lives — torn photographs of family holidays, somebody's shattered CD collection, scraps of clothing and, incongruously, half a sofa.

Leading journalists on a tour of the destruction, Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Nabulsi pointed at the apartments as evidence that Israel's campaign is targeting civilians, not military infrastructure.

"It's just apartments belonging to civilians," he said. "This is where we live. It's just ordinary people living here."

Hezbollah does not deny that its offices were scattered among the apartments in the neighborhood, which was well known to journalists. The apartment building housing Hezbollah's press office, where officials received journalists, was among those demolished by the air strikes.

But Hezbollah remained defiant in the face of the Israeli onslaught. Nasrallah gave an interview to Al Jazeera television Thursday to challenge Israeli claims that 23 tons of explosives dropped on a site in the southern Beirut suburb of Borj al-Barajneh had destroyed a Hezbollah bunker in which he had been hiding.

If I were an Israeli intelligence officer, and my job was to read world opinion, I would be quite nervous of the coverage Lebanese refugees are getting in the American media. The usual suspects are getting air time, but oddly enough, after Bloomberg pledged his fealty to Israel, something all New York politicans do, he was upbraided by an Arab group for taking sides. They certainly weren't standing by Israel as they killed their relatives and friends.

Unlike the other wars, there is a lot more sympathy expressed towards the Lebanese evicted from their homes, and Bush's cheerleading isn't being accepted with the same favor it might have been in the past.

The problem is that Lebanon was seen as a safe place, and many Americans went to visit their relatives, most of whom were not Shia Muslims, as the wack jobs would have you believe, but Christians.

For the first time, we're seeing how Israel wages war, and people aren't cheering along. They wonder why Bush won't stop it. And they're seeing lots of wounded children. I'd worry that I'd overplayed my hand with the American people.

Also, unlike 1982, Israel doesn't have allies in the South. Lebanese officials can blame Syria all they like, but it isn't Syrian bombs falling on them, is it? The Israeli campaign is a mini-Shock and Awe and it's working about as well. Hezbollah had six years to figure out how to hide from Israeli bombs and how to fight the IDF.

I would seriously question how much support Israel would have if after destroying Lebanon, Hezbollah was still up and running.

posted by Steve @ 1:42:00 AM

1:42:00 AM

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