Refugees Speak of Catastrophic Bombing

LEBANON-SYRIA BORDER — Refugees fleeing Beirut in the face of Israeli air attacks are speaking of “haphazard bombings” and a crisis situation developing in the city.

Israeli warplanes bombed the suburbs of Beirut overnight, killing three people and wounding 55, according to Lebanese police. Residents reported at least four Israeli missile strikes early Friday morning. The Lebanese military responded with anti-aircraft fire.

According to reports from Beirut, a bridge in the area was hit, along with the main highway to the airport. Lebanese police report that a fuel storage tank at a power station on the coast was destroyed in the air strikes, while Hezbollah targets near Hermel close to the Syrian border were targeted.

Israeli military officials reported that Hezbollah fighters fired more than 100 rockets into northern Israel Thursday, killing two people and wounding 92. Some rockets struck Haifa, Israel’s third largest city.

“The government has authorized the army to press on with its operation in Lebanon and hit more targets,” an Israeli government official said. That was after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered his army to continue its operations in Lebanon.

No immediate end to the fighting appeared in sight.

About 15,000 people are said to have crossed the Lebanese border into Syria, seeking refuge from widespread bombings carried out by F-16 warplanes.

As in the days of the Lebanese civil war, the border between Syria and Lebanon was a scene of chaos. Streams of buses and cars with luggage tied to the roof queued to cross into Syria. Many people came walking, carrying their luggage or pulling wheeled suitcases.

“I was in an area south of Beirut which was bombed heavily by the Israelis,” 55-year-old electrician Ali Suleiman told IPS. “There were so many refugees in shelters near us, which was near an old hospital which the Israelis bombed last night. It was terrifying at night when they attacked our area.”

Suleiman said he saw Israeli warplanes bomb a bridge, and that two of the main bridges which lead to southern Lebanon were destroyed.

“Both Syrian and Lebanese people are leaving now,” he said. “There is no more food, not even bread. There was no electricity or water in our area. If this situation continues, it will be a giant catastrophe.”

Nebham Razaq Hamed, a 22-year-old Lebanese student, said the situation in southern Beirut was horrific.

“The bombing at night was continuous and has continued today, they are using warplanes and sometimes artillery,” he told IPS at the border. “Everybody is in panic because of the haphazard bombing which is killing so many civilians now. The Israelis are terrorizing the people intentionally by not discriminating between fighters and civilians.”

“This is an act of terrorism,” said Rashid Khalaf, a 27-year-old carpenter carrying his belongings in a large sack. “The Israelis are bombing everywhere in the south, including much of Beirut now. I saw the killing and destruction by the Israelis, they are bombing everywhere they think the Hezbollah may be.”

Fifty-five-year-old Sheiboub Azem from Saudi Arabia who was in the mountains above Beirut on vacation with his family told IPS “there was bombing and fire everywhere in Beirut before we left.”

Azem said: “We watched from the balcony as they started bombing heavily at 3.45 am last night, and we lost our electricity and water. The Israelis must be bombing the water and electricity outlets.”

A 50-year-old Kuwaiti man had driven with his family to the border Friday morning from Beirut. “It’s very bad there, as the Israelis are attacking civilians, bombing police and petrol stations, and even the fuel storage depots,” he told IPS. “In fact, they have even bombed the airport once again. I saw F-16s bombing and there is smoke everywhere. This is a big disaster for the Lebanese.”

Abdulla Zalqana, a 28-year-old Lebanese baker in the city of Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley of central Lebanon told IPS that Israeli warplanes were bombing Baalbek and much of the southern area of the Bekaa Valley.

“They bombed the two roads which connect the Bekaa to Beirut,” he said. “This is a big catastrophe.”