BEIRUT, Jul 25 (IPS) – Among hundreds of thousands of refugees scattered across city parks, schools and abandoned buildings in Beirut, new and chilling words have been doing the rounds.
A senior Israeli Air Force official announced on Israeli Army Radio that “Army chief of staff Dan Halutz has given the order to the air force to destroy 10 multi-storey buildings in the Dahaya district (of Beirut) in response to every rocket fired on Haifa.”
Hezbollah rockets continue to be fired into northern Israel. The rocket fire has led to 17 deaths in Israel so far.
But the Israeli officer’s announcement came like warning of more collective punishment of civilians for the Hezbollah attacks. The Geneva Conventions seem forgotten.
And the attacks seem set to continue. Brigadier General Alon Friedman of the Israeli Army announced on Israeli Army Radio that “the scope continues to grow in recent days…we are advancing.” Friedman said Israeli military operations will continue at least another 10 days.
The announcements sounded new alarms of more death and destruction to come – and more refugees.
Reports of new fighting were coming in Tuesday, and more violence was bound to add to the swell of refugees. The Israeli military pushed deeper into Lebanon towards the town of Bint Jbail.
Hezbollah has been hitting back. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and at least 17 were injured in fighting there, according to local reports.
Hezbollah claims it shot down a U.S.-built Israeli Apache helicopter inside Israel. Thus far, at least 20 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the worsening conflict. Hezbollah claims it also destroyed five Israeli tanks in the area.
Fierce fighting was reported again in southern Lebanon, with nearly constant gunfire and explosions.
And as the Israeli advance continued, Beirut was preparing for yet more refugees. It is estimated that at least 900,000 Lebanese have been displaced already from their homes by the Israeli onslaught.
“The Israelis bombed all around our house, so we left 12 days ago,” 50-year-old Supinesh Attar from the southern city Nabatiye told IPS at a refugee camp inside a city park in downtown Beirut. “We had no water or electricity since the beginning of the attack, so we fled for our lives.”
Attar, sitting on a bench holding a piece of bread he had just been handed by a volunteer, said he was always hungry and did not know where he would go from here. “My family of 12 is scattered all around Beirut. I am the only one in this park.”
Sarjoun Namdi, a relief worker at the camp, told IPS that the camp in the park had dealt with between 3,000 and 4,000 refugees. “Each day we have between 600-700 coming, and we try to move them to a safer place,” he said as Israeli jets roared above. “This place has bad hygiene, and not enough food and diapers.”
Nearby, a relief worker pleaded with a large family to relocate to a school in the area so they could have shelter. The family refused to leave the park for fear they would have no food and water at the new location.
Relief agencies continue to struggle to operate effectively in war-torn Lebanon. International relief groups continue their appeal for safe access to southern Lebanon, as tens of thousands of refugees remain stranded there, and countless wounded, with little assistance.
International relief agencies are warning of a humanitarian disaster unless their supplies are allowed through. Aside from being impeded by the violence, they are being held back by the ongoing Israeli air and sea blockage. The widespread destruction of infrastructure by Israeli air strikes is also limiting access.
The Lebanese Red Crescent is still continuing to work round the clock to reach the wounded, and to distribute food, water, blankets and mattresses.
The International Committee for the Red Cross has provided some assistance, but remains mostly limited by lack of safe passage to the south. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office is primarily distributing potable water, and other supplies when possible.
Given the limitations of the refugee agencies, the bulk of relief to the displaced and wounded is being provided on a grassroots level.
The various refugee camps in schools and city parks that IPS visited were being managed by Hezbollah, local non-government organisation groups, mosques, churches, and just ordinary people.