Residents of Besieged City Feel 'Just Left Here to Die'
Friday, July 21, 2006
TYRE, Lebanon, July 20 -- The warning came in the morning Thursday, a recorded message dialed to phone numbers in southern Lebanon. In flawless Arabic, it instructed: Leave now, beyond the Litani River that bisects the rock-studded wadis of the south. Don't flee on motorcycles or in vans or trucks. Otherwise, you will be a target. The message signed off simply: the state of Israel.
But leaving this southern Lebanese city Thursday was more complicated than a choice. Aid officials say that tens of thousands have already fled Tyre and its environs along the Mediterranean Sea but that perhaps 12,000 Lebanese remain stranded. The wartime circumstances of a besieged city keep them here: no gasoline for their cars, no money for taxi fares that have surged 75-fold, no faith in assurances from Israeli forces that have repeatedly attacked civilian vehicles and, most desperately, no hope of finding safety.
"We're just left here to die," said Maher Yassin, standing across from Tyre's harbor and wearing a shirt that read, "Mortal."
The plight of Tyre's people is the story of the latest Arab-Israeli conflict writ small: In nine days of attacks that Israel says have targeted the infrastructure of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Lebanon's civilians have suffered inordinately, with more than 300 dead, many times that number wounded and 500,000 displaced. As this city awaits the brunt of an Israeli attack that most think is imminent, resignation, hopelessness, occasional defiance and a sense of abandonment course through the beleaguered population.
"They evacuate the foreigners, bring them to safety, and they leave us like dogs in the street," said Therese Khairallah, sitting with friends in an alley near the seashore. "A small mistake turned into this mountain of a disaster, and we're the victims."
She shook her head, on a day when attacks had waned, more breather than respite. "God knows what's ahead."
God comes up often in conversations these days in Tyre, where residents trade rumors about when Israel will unleash an even worse attack, whether its troops will invade, whether the conflict will last one week, two weeks or perhaps far longer.
"We'll not go," insisted Ahmed Mroueh, the director of Jabal Amel Hospital. He repeated the words, perhaps to reassure himself. "What else can you do? There's just no alternative. Can we leave the wounded and run away? We have to keep working."
Mroueh flipped through the handwritten ledger on his desk listing the 228 wounded his hospital has treated since fighting began.
"Look at this," he said, running down the list.
"One 11 years old, one 5 years old, one 4 years old." He stopped, just briefly. "This is a 3-month-old." Each was highlighted in yellow to denote a death. "We have not received one injured, not one dead, who's not a civilian."
Jabal Amel Hospital sits next to a bomb site where missiles destroyed three villas four days ago. Doctors at the hospital said eight children, their mother and her sister were buried in the attack. One building was flattened, rubble strewn about as in an archaeological dig; the others were in various stages of destruction. Part of a red-tiled roof was intact; the rest suggested the aftermath of a tornado.