No Haven in a City Paralyzed by Dread
Thursday, July 20, 2006
TYRE, Lebanon, July 19 -- Soon after dawn Wednesday, Ibrahim Khalil Heidar readied his green Mercedes. His wife, son and daughter-in-law climbed in, carrying no more than would fit in the trunk. Their neighbors, among them eight women and four children, piled into two other cars, a white and a blue Mercedes. On the roof of each vehicle, they carefully tied a white sheet that rippled in the morning breeze.
A universal message, it was their plea for protection.
They then left their small border town of Aitaroun, already barraged by Israeli airstrikes, and made for Tyre, and safety. But little around them was safe. A bomb-hewn crater blocked one road. A detour brought them to another crater. "Around and around" they drove, Heidar recalled, before they reached a narrow, buckling road an hour later that ran along a grove of ripening lemons bordered by stately pines.
"We didn't hear anything until the missiles struck us," the 75-year-old Heidar said. "One, two, three -- I have no idea."
From his hospital bed in Tyre, he shook his head at a memory just a few hours old.
"God help us," he said.
In more than a week of Israeli airstrikes, his home of southern Lebanon has shattered like a china plate. Among its shards are the broken lives of tens of thousands of people fleeing villages such as Aitaroun, and tens of thousands more stranded in Tyre, a besieged city spread out along the Mediterranean Sea where aid and hospital officials say a humanitarian disaster is unfolding.
Red Cross officials here said scores of people were killed in attacks across the south on Tuesday. With roads under threat of attack, they said, the office's five ambulances couldn't reach villages, leaving victims buried under the rubble. Braving the shelling that residents describe as random, cars flew white flags from antennas, rolled-up windows, sunroofs or hand-held flagpoles.
Civil defense workers, too scared to venture out in firetrucks, had to leave a rotting corpse in a humid sun along one road. His bloodied head was propped against the window of his car, struck on Tuesday. Clothes spilled out of torn suitcases in the trunk; on the ground lay pink and blue baby shirts.
Tyre, a city of 60,000 before the war, 12 miles north of the Israeli border, is paralyzed by fear and dread. Hundreds of people have fled to the Tyre Rest House, a beachfront hotel, hoping for an evacuation. The city itself is deserted: No shop is open; few cars ply the streets, which are strewn here and there with rubble. In a traffic circle, a horse lazily grazed on grass, as a lonesome car alarm pierced the afternoon sky, drowned out every so often by the trail of Israeli jets and the thud of bombing.
Rumors swirl: that Israeli agents are on the ground marking targets, that in 24 hours there will be no way out left.
"It's not the end. This is only the beginning," said Katya Taleb, who got married last month. "It's the beginning of the end."