Beirut Diary 1:

Israel bombs the neighbourhoods and villages of the poor

Special to Shunpiking Online

BEIRUT (Sunday, 16 July 2006: 06:26:33) - I'M NOT SURE you are reading, hearing and seeing on TV in Canada about what's going on here, but I hope this e-mail report will be informative and help fill out the perspective.

I live in the neighbourhood of Fern el Chabeek, East Beirut, about 5 km from the edge of the southern suburbs of Beirut City. Yesterday (Saturday) Israeli warplanes and warships began sporadic bombardment of the city around 3 p.m., mostly focused on neighbourhoods in the southern suburbs, but also striking bridges and a lighthouse in West Beirut. What this means is that every half hour or so, we would hear a large explosion which would shake us in our chairs and rattle the windows. This gradually increased in frequency to bombs every 10 minutes or so, with periods of continuous bombardment, which lasted until about 5:00 a.m. this morning (Sunday), climaxing for the last two hours with explosions that defy my ability to describe, shattering the air and our eardrums, shaking our apartment building and lighting up the night sky. That's roughly 15 hours of bombing the same area of Beirut.

What must be pointed out is that the Southern Suburbs of Beirut are some of the poorest and most densely packed residential areas in Lebanon. Yes, as the Israelis claim, the offices of Hizbullah are located in these areas, and Hizbullah is the effective local government, but the thousands and thousands of people who live here are anything but "terrorists." They are shopkeepers, students, taxi drivers, mothers, fathers and children. The Israelis dropped leaflets over the city two nights ago warning people to leave, and many did, but many others had nowhere to go.

We went to sleep around 6:30 a.m. this morning, sure that the bombardment had ended for the night, and were woken at 11 am this morning to more bombs. Lebanese TV broadcast piles of burned bodies being stacked into the back of a pickup truck by frantic emergency workers. As seems to be Israeli Defense Force (IDF) tactics these days, they bomb an area heavily, wait a few hours for emergency crews to be on the scene, then bomb the exact same spot again, which again happened just this morning. It's not possible to determine a total for the number of casualties at this moment, as (1) the area destroyed was so massive that this kind of count will take a while, and (2) emergency crews are being forced from the area to avoid themselves becoming casualties to continued Israeli airstrikes.

This undoubtedly leaves hundreds of injured trapped in the rubble. And the area is rubble. Courageous cameramen in the area are showing us video of streets completely full of concrete and burned and smashed furniture and glass from the demolished 20 storey buildings that are now twisted metal rebar spiraling up from shattered concrete foundations. As a side note, after the planes stopped bombing, Israeli attack helicopters flew over West Beirut and began firing missiles in the Neighbourhood of Ouzi, which had been considered a 'safe place' by families of southern suburbs looking to flee.

This is only the latest in the Israeli offensive. The Lebanese death toll on Saturday before the heavy bombing of Beirut City began was counted at 97 civilians and climbing. This includes an extended family of 21 people who were jammed into a pickup truck as they fled the heavy bombardments in South Lebanon early Saturday afternoon. On the costal highway from the city of Tyre to the city of Sidon, their truck was targeted by an Israeli warplane, struck with a missile, and then TV crews arrived just in time to show the burnt pieces of children, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and grandparents being laid in the back of an ambulance to be taken to the morgue.

And at the morgue we see an infant, perhaps two-years old, who was torn in half at the waste in another Israeli attack. In another room in the morgue the camera panned across the dead bodies of 8 to 10 year olds lying side-by-side along the floor.

Though the bombardment in Beirut City has been heavy, it pales in comparison to what has been happening in the villages, towns and cities in South Lebanon since Wednesday morning. Practically all civilian infrastructure has been bombed, this means all bridges, roads, power plants, ports, and most other things we can normally see around us in an populated area. On Thursday, the second day of the Israeli offensive, IDF strikes killed a family of 10 and another family of 7 in the village Dweir, in the area of Nabatieh.

The Israeli offensive has also destroyed multiple bridge sections of the highway east to Damascus City, Syria , cutting off the eastern route for refugees fleeing Beirut City . The roads and highways south of Beirut have been pulverized, and continue to take hits, thus leaving the only escape route the long, twisty and potholed highway to the northern border with Syria. Thousands of people escaping the onslaught have bottlenecked the road, and some 70,000 refugees have already crossed into Syria. The IDF has also bombed several sites near Lebanon's northern border with Syria.

More than eight different series' of bombardments on the Rafik Harri Airport have also closed the country to civilian air traffic. (It should be noted that one of the first actions of the Israeli offensive was to send three missles into the runways at the airport, which forced it to close. If the intent of the IDF was simply to close the airport, this was sufficient. Subsequent strikes have destroyed fuel storage tankers at the airport and destroyed the terminal build. The modern airport complex, built by the county's late former prime minister by the same name, had been a national emblem of the reconstruction effort in Lebanon after the country's devastating 1975 - 1990 civil war, which, it just happens, also included an Israeli invasion in 1982 that result in the deaths of some 15,000 Lebanese civilians in west Beirut and elsewhere around the country.)

During the second day of the offensive, Thursday, the Israeli Navy also began a blockade of Lebanese ports, stopping all ship from landing their cargo. The IDF has also bomb the fuel storage tankers at the main power plant and is blocking tanker ships with diesel from entering the country. The effect is a strangulation on the supply of fuel and the power plants have been force to ration, leaving Beirut City without power for most of the last 5 days. [it should be noted here that power came back on yesterday evening and has remained on throughout the night, allowing people to watch the destruction of Beirut City's southern suburbs live on TV]

Yesterday the IDF also bombed the port facilities in Beirut City and the town of Jounieh City , just north of Beirut City. This creates a major problem for foreign embassies which are frantically trying to put together evacuation plans for their tens of thousands of foreign nationals trapped in Lebanon, as the port of Beirut and the port of Jounieh are where evacuees would have been boarded onto boats for Cypress City .

As I've been writing explosions have continued to shake to city.

This email is not in any way an endorsement of actions by Hizbullah. At 9:00 a.m. fighters from the Shia Muslim group launched an attack across the 'Blue Line' which separates Lebanon from Israeli, near the northern Israeli farming town of Shtula City. The Hizbullah attack on two armored Israeli Humvees and subsequent events the same day resulted in the death of eight IDF soldiers and the abduction of two.

However, the Israeli response to Hizbullah's attack has been to pound the entire country of Lebanon to dust and escalate the conflict beyond what was ever thought imaginable.

As I finish this e-mail, about 4:30 p.m. local time, I've just heard that the IDF has warned all residents of south Lebanon to flee in preparation for a land invasion of tanks and troops, which is to begin in about 45 minutes.
Halifax native Spencer Osberg is a journalist with the English-language Daily Star of Beirut and a former intern with shunpiking magazine

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