Fleeing Lebanese Speak of Indiscriminate Bombing

ADDABBAOUSIYEH (northern Lebanese border), Jul 16 (IPS) – People fleeing the bombing of Lebanon say the Israelis are targeting civilian neighbourhoods and vital infrastructure, and not just Hezbollah centres.

The bombing has killed more than 100 Lebanese civilians so far.

Several border points between Syria and Lebanon are being deluged with refugees. Lebanon has a long border with Syria towards its south, east and north. The refugees include both Lebanese and tourists.

“Everything is being bombed,” a teacher from the United States who was on vacation in Beirut told IPS. “It’s terror. We’ve literally been terrorised.”

Twenty-five-year-old social studies teacher Abdul Rahman was living with his family in downtown Beirut near the United Nations building before they all decided to flee.

“We have not slept for three days because we were living in terror and never knew when the Israelis would bomb us since they were hitting everything,” he told IPS.

“If they want to hit Hezbollah, let them hit Hezbollah, but not the civilians. But civilians are all that they are hitting.”

His mother feared for her 96-year-old father who they had to leave behind. “We cannot move him because he is too frail,” she said. “And now all we can do is worry, since the Israelis are taking it out on the innocent people.”

On Sunday, the Israeli army also re-entered the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip. According to reports from Gaza, three members of Hamas were killed after Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered Beit Hanun town early morning.

Gunfire and shelling by the Israelis is also reported to have killed a 75-year-old woman and wounded 10 others, along with a baby.

Israel launched several air strikes in Gaza as well. An Israeli army spokeswoman claimed they destroyed a Hamas operations room in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

Israel’s stated goal in Gaza is to free a soldier captured by Hamas. So far Israeli actions there have left one Israeli soldier dead, along with 82 Palestinians.

Hamas is demanding the release of prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for the Israeli soldier.

Israel is now embroiled in fighting on two fronts. The impact of the fighting with Lebanon is being felt widely in Syria.

Abud Aziz, a 31-year-old Lebanese pastry chef from Beirut crossed the border into Syria carrying his suitcase and looking for food and water. There had been no water or electricity in Beirut since Saturday, he said.

“Yesterday I saw two hospitals bombed,” he told IPS. “Nobody who remains in Beirut can be safe. No way.”

A 25-year-old construction worker named Hamed also said he saw warplanes bomb a hospital in Beirut.

“I saw them bomb a hospital yesterday,” he told IPS. “I left just hours ago. They are bombing everything — houses, casinos, fuel stations and so many bridges.”

Meanwhile, on Sunday Hezbollah fired more than 20 rockets into the city of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, killing eight and wounding at least a dozen.

The Hezbollah clearly have the means to strike back at Israel. They are a well-armed and well-organised political and military group of Shia Muslims in Lebanon. Sustained military attacks by the Hezbollah forced Israel to vacate southern Lebanon in May 2000.

But the Hezbollah are not supported by all Lebanese. About 60 percent of the 3.8 million population of Lebanon is Muslim, most of them Shia. This is where Hezbollah draws its support.

The rest of the population is almost all Christian. A 15-year civil war between Muslim and Christian groups ended in 1991. The Hezbollah are believed to draw more support from outside the country than from many within.

In the wake of Hezbollah strikes into Israel, Israeli authorities have declared a 48-hour period of martial law over the northern part of the country. Hezbollah groups have fired more than 400 rockets into Israel, killing at least 16 civilians in the last five days.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Lebanon of “far-reaching” consequences after the rocket attacks. The Israeli army said that it had warned all civilians to leave southern Lebanon.

Many of those who have left report panic conditions in Lebanon. “The Israelis bombed a bridge to the airport near us and killed many people,” 26-year-old Hasna told IPS. “When other people went on the bridge to help the wounded, the planes bombed it again.”

Ambulances are usually not available because of the danger, she said. “We were the last people to leave our area. The road there was nearly empty.”

Alham Aras, a Danish woman who was vacationing in Tripoli in Lebanon, drove up to the border with her six children Sunday. She said she had left on instructions from her embassy.

“The warplanes bombed the Palestinian camps in Tripoli,” she said, “They are attacking up and down the coast, and the port in Tripoli was also attacked.”

Her 14-year-old daughter Barihan al-Jassim said, “Somebody should stop this madness. How is it possible for a country to be bombed like this and nobody stops them from doing it?”