In Southern Lebanon, Weary Resignation

A medic checks the ID of a man killed in an Israeli missile strike so it can be written on his coffin. The man was killed as he drove a van away from Sidon.
A medic checks the ID of a man killed in an Israeli missile strike so it can be written on his coffin. The man was killed as he drove a van away from Sidon. (By Kevin Frayer -- Associated Press)
By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 7, 2006

SIDON, Lebanon, Aug. 6 -- Physician Ghassan Hammoud leaned into the phone Sunday, one hand to his ear, the other gesturing. As in so much in southern Lebanon these days, there was a tone of desperation, a touch of exasperation, a hint of pleading and a sense of the unprecedented. It was one of 15 calls he would make this day, one of 50 he might receive, all trying to bring order to chaos.

He needed fuel for cars. Then seven cars to go to Beirut to pick up medicine. He needed drivers who would risk roads that Israeli forces have attacked. Then more fuel for the generators to power his hospital, the biggest in Lebanon's third-largest city.

Hammoud, 70, hung up his phone and fell back in his chair. He shook his head, a gesture toward a Sisyphean plight.

"I tell you what, this war might go for a long time," he said, a four-page list of needed medicine before him. "There won't be an end because no one is going to win or lose. Both sides are winning, both sides are losing. The big loser is the Lebanese."

The United States and France have agreed on a draft U.N. resolution calling for a cease-fire in the nearly four-week-old war, but already Sunday, U.S. officials were saying that it was only a first step and that it would take a while to end the fighting. Few appeared to disagree in beleaguered southern Lebanon, where weary residents began settling in for the long wait across a terrain more battered by fighting than at any time in the country's modern history.

With a sense that both Israel and Hezbollah have the stamina and endurance to fight on, many in southern Lebanon have started to think of their futures placed within a long-running war: Doctors talk about leaving the country for good; some of the hundreds of thousands of displaced within Lebanon have simply come back to their homes in places such as Tyre, fearful the temporary was becoming permanent.

"Brother, you try living in a school," said Khodr al-Ruz, 17, who returned two days ago to Tyre after spending three weeks sharing a classroom with 15 other displaced Lebanese in the Christian town of Byblos, north of Beirut.

A day after the war started, Ruz and his extended family got in eight cars -- a ramshackle convoy of old Mercedes, Toyotas, Hondas and a van -- and headed north, a 12-hour drive, between shelling, over often mountainous roads. They decided to leave after an Israeli missile struck a building in Tyre that housed the civil defense agency and leaflets urged southern Lebanese to evacuate.

"No one was reassuring us," he said.

At the government high school in Bint Jbeil, they joined about 400 other people from the poor Shiite Muslim neighborhoods of Beirut, Tyre and the villages of southern Lebanon bearing the brunt of the war.

"How could you breathe?" he asked. "There wasn't any oxygen in there."

By last week, Ruz said, he had had enough. He caught a taxi to the edge of Beirut, another through Beirut, a third taxi to Sidon and then a minibus to Tyre. He borrowed the money to pay for the fare, about $12 in all. On Sunday, a Metallica tattoo on his arm, a pack of cigarettes at his side, he spent the afternoon at his home watching an old Egyptian film, starring comedian Adel Imam.

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