Reports from Lebanon by Sonia Knox, Christian Henderson, and Jim Quilty
First it sounds like a whisper, then a whine, then the bone shaking crack of a bomb that shatters windows and sends a tall plume of black acrid smoke over the city.
Sometimes they are distant booms as villages in the south or the north of Lebanon are pounded, other times the bombs land on the packed neighbourhoods of the capital, Beirut.
Many, many people have been killed.
Across the south the Israeli army has been ordering people out of their homes in a chilling reminder of the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948, when Palestinians were driven out by violence and terror during the creation of the Israeli state. Those who flee are killed on the roads, those who remain die in their houses.
Beirut is full of rumours of “vacuum bombs” that reduce whole apartment buildings to dust, of gas attacks and the suggestion that people “eat coal” to counter the effects, of white phosphorous shells setting neighbourhoods alight.
Christian areas have not been spared Israeli bombs. The small fishing town of Batroun, famed for its lemonade, was attacked, as were the Christian heartlands of Jounieh and the mixed suburbs of Beirut. The historic coastal town of Byblos was attacked.
Israeli warplanes struck the Sunni Muslim city of Tripoli and the agricultural areas of Hermel in the north east. Not even Baalbeck, an ancient city of Roman ruins, was spared.
For many Lebanese there is nowhere to run to. The main Beirut-Damascus highway is strewn with wrecked cars and downed bridges, the airport is destroyed, the sea lanes blocked. The price of a taxi ride to Syria is over £500 per person.
The heaviest barrage has fallen on the poor Shia Muslim quarters of south Beirut. The poor neighbourhood of Haret Hreik has been completely levelled.
The government is paralysed. Ministers have headed for the shelters. Yet the defiance continues. Lebanese army units are coordinating with the resistance.
In the south, Lebanese soldiers battled Israeli troops, while anti-aircraft batteries have been attempting to drive off warplanes.
But this is an unequal battle. Israeli forces have bombed army positions and killed scores of soldiers who were protecting food warehouses.
Gunboats prowl off the coast. Warplanes and helicopter gunships spread their terror from the air.
George Bush claims that Hizbollah is armed and funded by Syria and Iran. But Israel receives $3 billion of aid each year from the US.
Israel claims it is reacting to the kidnapping of two of its soldiers. But Israel holds a whole nation to ransom.
Some 78 percent of historic Palestine is occupied, and Israel intervenes at will in the remaining 22 percent. Four million Palestinians are refugees.
Israel, armed by the US and Britain, is the greatest source of violence in the region.
It is this violence that has bred resistance from groups such as Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine – just as the US-led occupation is now breeding resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They came from the southern suburbs of Beirut, cars packed full of families fleeing savage bombardment of their homes. Everybody tells of a ferocious bombardment from air, sea and land. Many describe fleeing on Israeli orders.
For one convoy it was a trap. A stream of cars from the southern village of Marwahin carrying men, women and children, was attacked by helicopter gunships. Around 23 are believed to have been killed. The number of dead cannot be confirmed.
Refugees speak of the elderly being left behind, others speak of whole villages in ruins, of dusty and disfigured bodies littering the streets.
Here and there neighbours are digging in the rubble. A few lucky ones are pulled out alive. In the Sunni Muslim city of Sidon the warplanes destroyed a home furnishings factory and a paper mill.
The power plant was also struck, plunging the south into darkness. Nothing is being spared.
In Christian neighbourhoods of Beirut schools are being opened to give the overwhelmingly Shia Muslim refugees some shelter. The middle class neighbourhoods near the American University of Beirut are also filling up with refugees.
So far there are about 60,000 refugees from south Lebanon and the southern suburbs of the capital. They are being allocated refuge by an ad-hoc committee of Palestinian and Lebanese groups – from the Islamist organisations through to Helem, a gay and lesbian rights group.
The popular movements have been coordinating the relief work, organising medical teams, public health and sanitation.
Bassem Chit is helping organise relief work for refugees. He told Socialist Worker, “All the refugee centres have run out of food, there is very little water.
“People have been forcing open schools to house refugees. The government is paralysed. The popular movements have filled the vacuum. It is these organisations that are dealing with the national emergency.”
The government has so far refused to open public shelters.
Reports from the capital say that some supporters of the pro-US Lebanese government have been refusing to allow refugees into their areas.
In east Beirut supporters of National Patriotic Movement led by Micheal Aoun, the Christian leader who helped spearhead last year’s Cedar Revolution, drove away members of the right wing Lebanese Forces in order to open schools for refugees.
Aoun has mobilised his relief network while he has publicly denounced the Israeli onslaught declaring, “This war did not start last week, but 58 years ago” – a reference to the foundation of the state of Israel.
“If the Israelis wanted to drive Lebanon’s communities apart they have failed,” Bassem said. “For the first time Christian schools are opening their doors to Shias and other refugees.
“This is unprecedented in our history and is the one ray of light amid the horror and death.”
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