Gloom, defiance at Hizbollah's flattened Beirut HQ

  • World
  • Sunday, 16 Jul 2006

By Alaa Shahine

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The only thing left standing at Hizbollah's headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Sunday was the guerrilla group's yellow banner hanging in front of the destroyed building and a torn Lebanese flag. 

The heavy Israeli bombardment has flattened many buildings in the "security zone" round the Shi'ite Muslim group's offices. Piles of rubble and damaged cars block several deserted streets. 

Buildings are demolished in southern Beirut after the Hizbollah stronghold was targeted by Israeli air strikes July 16, 2006. REUTER/Adnan Hajj

"We feel the entire world has left us alone to be slaughtered," said Ali al-Amin, a 40-year-old civil engineer who has stayed at his nearby home with his sister and mother because they have nowhere else to go. Many families have already fled. 

Posters of Hizbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of Iran which backs the group, still cling to walls nearby. A German flag, hoisted during the soccer World Cup, hangs across a narrow street. 

"Hearing the explosions was terrifying. We could not sleep all night and we are worried this could escalate. It's an all-out war now," said Amin. 

Israel pursued its five-day military offensive against Hizbollah targets and scores of civilian installations across Lebanon on Sunday, and Hizbollah retaliated by firing rockets at Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, killing eight people. 

The Israeli attacks, launched after Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight, have killed at least 112 people in Lebanon, almost all of them civilians. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened Lebanon on Sunday with "far-reaching" consequences after the bombardment of Haifa. 

The few remaining people on the streets of Beirut's southern suburbs said the scale of destruction caused by the bombing brought back memories of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, when Israel bombed southern and western Beirut after its ground forces had invaded the country to expel Palestinian militants. 

"It looks even worse than 1982. People, especially women and children, are even terrified of staying in shelters," said 39-year-old Jamil Khalifeh, calmly nibbling potato chips. 

"I am used to this though, and we have nowhere else but here. We are staying," he said. 

Hassan al-Najar, 69, echoed Khalifeh's sentiments but said Hizbollah's attacks on the Jewish state were "still keeping our morale and heads high." 

Plainclothes Hizbollah personnel toured the area on motorbikes to check the damage, witnesses said. They said they had seen scores of families being evacuated in trucks to the Christian-dominated eastern part of Beirut. 

Orange-clad members of the Free Patriotic Trend, led by Christian Maronite leader Michel Aoun, were distributing bread and milk among the evacuated families. 

Hundreds of families from southern Lebanon and southern Beirut have left their homes and been placed in at least 21 schools across the capital, but aid workers said such locations lacked basic services. 

"They don't have enough blankets, sheets and medical supplies," said Ghassan Marakem, one of the aid volunteers. "The situation is disgusting." 

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