Forging a shunpike; bridging the River Litani

With all of the Litani River's bridges destroyed by Israel, the Lebanese improvise to supply the South with aid

Washington Post Foreign Service

Red Cross medics help injured Hezbollah fighters cross the Litani River. In Lebanon's isolated south, many are cut off from food, medicine and fuel. (By Ghaith Abdul-ahad -- Getty Images)
QASMIYA, Lebanon (9 August 2006) - THERE ARE no more bridges along the 90 miles of the Litani River, dividing besieged southern Lebanon and Hezbollah's fighters from the rest of the country. One by one, Israeli forces bombed them all. So a little ways from the Mediterranean Sea, where the river's meandering waters eddy, then empty, about 20 men heaved, pushed, pulled and coaxed -- with appeals to God in between -- two water-logged trucks carrying supplies Wednesday to regions bearing the brunt of Israel's invasion.

Over a few hours, Hezbollah's shadowy organization emerged on the banks of the Litani. "Don't take pictures!" one of the men shouted.

The dozens of black bags, filled with tuna, sardines, rice, processed cheese, sugar and tea, were marked with stickers in red and green. "A Gift, the Red Crescent Society, the Islamic Republic of Iran," they read. Scrawled on one car was a prayer: "Under the protection of the merciful." Around them hurried men with walkie-talkies and cellphones, furtively glancing at sounds of war above.

They worked with precision -- everyone had a job, hardly a movement was wasted.

And they worked with speed -- no one knew when one of the distant sounds might signal an Israeli attack.

It's Dangerous, but Hezbollah Is Strong
"It's dangerous," one young man said, nerves quickening his pace, as he lugged loads of bread, "but Hezbollah is strong."

In a methodical campaign to isolate southern Lebanon, where 10,000 Israeli soldiers are fighting a dogged foe, Israel has blockaded the city of Tyre, dozens of villages and the rock-strewn valleys between them. The bridges are wrecked. So are the roads. And menacing Israeli leaflets sprinkled over Tyre have warned that any car in the street, whatever the type, at whatever hour, may be annihilated.

But a guerrilla war dictates resilience, and along patches of the Litani, shrouded by wilting banana plantations and parched citrus groves, the provisions and casualties of battle passed Wednesday where there was no passing. With the supplies came the wounded fighters, ferried by the Red Cross across a fallen tree further up the river, and with the wounded came more bread, hand-carried over rushing waters where a bridge once stood.

"Let's push!" one man ordered.

A red Toyota pickup truck was stuck three-quarters across the Litani and, 20 yards away, a white truck was sinking into the river after trying to cross a makeshift bridge of blue steel plates perched on mounds of gravel and sand.

The driver gunned the Toyota, then its engine stalled. Five men attached a long wire, then tried to pull the pickup up the bank.

"Come on guys!" one of them yelled.


Source: Washington Post, Thursday, August 10, 2006; Page A01

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