'God Stop the Bombs!'

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

TIBNIN, Lebanon, July 25 -- The Israeli shells thundered into the charred hillside above the Tibnin General Hospital. There were two, then another, then two more, the uneven cadence of an attack on Tuesday. The walls shuddered and acrid smoke drifted through the building. Huddled inside were at least 1,350 Lebanese in hallways, rooms, stairwells, a lobby and a basement lit by a few candles, hiding with little water, less food and almost no hope of salvation from a war that provoked their flight and had returned to their doorstep.

"Oh Lord!" cried 60-year-old Saadeh Awadeh, leaping up from a tattered cushion against a wall. "God stop the bombs!"

Her screams made children cry, their tangled wails wrapped in suffocating heat. Her pleas, in vain, angered others.

"Shut up!" one man shouted from down the crowded ground-floor hallway barely lit by the sun.

The Tibnin hospital, eight miles from the Israeli border, a half-hour drive to the coastal city of Tyre in peace, is a Guernica-like tableau of suffering, desperation and anguish, the nexus of the country's unfolding humanitarian crisis in a hilly redoubt near an ancient fort almost unreachable by perilous roads. There are no doctors here. Water does not run. The electricity was cut on the war's first day.

Elderly women, fleeing two weeks of fighting since, have wrapped their swollen, bloodied and bruised feet in gauze. Five babies have been born premature since the fighting started. There is nowhere to bathe them. In another hallway, Abeer Faris cradled in her arms her 3-day-old infant, whom she carried on foot from the besieged city of Bint Jbeil nine hours after giving birth.

"The country is grieving," said Hussein Qadouh, a 43-year-old who had left his home in Tibnin and sought shelter inside.

"There's death all over the place," said Mustafa Wehbe, a 45-year-old, standing next to Qadouh.

Lebanese along the border started fleeing to Tibnin on the war's first day. It was a bigger town than most, known as a picnic spot, perched over tobacco farms, rows of pines and the gracefully aged, rocky hills of southern Lebanon. The first stone of its fort was laid in 1850 B.C., and the town was long ago a resting place for caravans. The hospital was renovated, a seemingly safe place from bombing. So they came -- a few at first, then hundreds and dozens more Tuesday, from fighting growing more intense by the day. And here they wait, in a narrative of war's suffering, tragedies more personal than political.

Entering the lobby was like opening an oven door, and anger, fear and abandonment poured forth. People crowded for space along the tile floors and underneath an entrance that bore the hospital's name in metal-worked, gold lettering. The walls were adorned with faded red-and-white Lebanese flags.

"Get us out of here!" one person pleaded.

"Help us!" another cried.

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