Evacuations Underway in Beirut
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
BEIRUT, July 18 -- By helicopter and ship, hundreds of Americans and Europeans fled on Tuesday from Beirut, ending its first week of siege, as casualties mounted in deadly Israeli raids that struck a Lebanese military base, a truck carrying food from Syria and a village near the border. The militant group Hezbollah fired at least 100 rockets into Israel, killing one civilian.
On a sweltering day, Norwegian, Swedish, Greek and British ships pulled into Beirut's harbor, most of them trying to load their passengers before nightfall. From a helipad at the U.S. Embassy overlooking Beirut, the dull thud of rotors announced the arrival of helicopters, which ferried passengers to the island of Cyprus, taking 30 people on each trip. Other U.S. citizens waited, growing more frustrated over having to endure another day of a conflict that has begun to impose a wartime logic in the city.
"I had to come and cry at the door of the U.S. Embassy, kissing hand and foot, telling them they must let me leave," said Raba Letteri, a child-care provider from Reston, Va., who was on vacation in Lebanon with her husband and two children.
They were living near Beirut's international airport, a swath of the capital barraged in Israeli airstrikes. Her 2-year-old son, Aaron, had a stomach infection. As they waited to board, he burst into tears. "This is the worst thing in my life," she said.
Through the day, Beirut itself was relatively quiet. Life returned to some streets so far unscathed by the attacks. Even traffic in the battered Shiite Muslim suburbs, Hezbollah's stronghold, trickled past the rubble of destroyed bridges and the shattered glass from apartment buildings that littered the streets. To some, the day was a brief respite as evacuations got underway. What might follow the foreigners' departure was a question many asked.
"I feel in my heart that after the foreigners leave, big problems are on the way," said Jamil Abu Hassan, a burly 56-year-old, loitering near the port. "Today, the embassies are taking their people. Tomorrow, the next day? God knows what will happen."
Hezbollah fired at least 100 rockets at Israel on Tuesday, including a large barrage an hour before sunset, striking about 10 towns and cities across northern Israel, from Haifa on the Mediterranean coast to tourist communities in the southern Galilee region. [Two big explosions reverberated over Beirut early Wednesday, and missiles hit towns to the east and south of the capital, the Associated Press reported.]
One Israeli was killed Tuesday in a rocket strike in Nahariya about four miles south of Lebanon on the coast, the Israeli military reported. Twenty-one people were injured. So far in the fighting, 25 Israelis have been killed, including 12 soldiers.
[Israeli armored forces entered the central Gaza Strip overnight and clashed with Palestinian militants, killing two members of Hamas and wounding five, the Associated Press reported, citing residents. Witnesses reported heavy gunfire around the Maghazi Refugee Camp, not far from the Gaza Strip's border with Israel. Fourteen other people, including children, were reported wounded. Five Israeli soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, the military said, describing the raid as part of its effort to halt rocket fire and recover a soldier captured by gunmen June 25.]
Several rockets struck Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, about 22 miles south of Lebanon, where eight civilians were killed in a rocket barrage Sunday, the Israeli military said. The city's port remained closed for a second day because of the danger.
More than 720 Hezbollah rockets -- a small portion of the militant Islamic group's arsenal -- have struck Israel since hostilities began a week ago, when Hezbollah crossed the border and seized two Israeli soldiers. In the wake of the attack, Israel has unleashed a destructive military offensive that has killed more than 230 Lebanese, most of them civilians. The country's airport is closed, and the south is largely cut off from the rest of the country by wrecked roads and collapsed bridges.
The Israeli military said its jets flew about 110 raids over Lebanon on Tuesday, part of a campaign that has created competing narratives of the war. An Israeli military spokeswoman said the raids were targeting trucks carrying Hezbollah weapons, Katyusha rocket launchers in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah weapons storage facilities, bridges and roads used to transport weapons and fighters -- "all of this to damage the Hezbollah infrastructure," she said.