With Fatal Blasts, War Invades Quiet Enclave of Beirut
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
BEIRUT, Aug. 8 -- Then the war came to Al Shiyah.
In the jumbled streets with their little sandwich shops and decrepit walls, where laborers and clerks raised their families, a pair of missiles fired from an Israeli warplane Monday evening streaked down and destroyed three apartment buildings.
The blasts crumpled cars like accordions. Apartment buildings collapsed into piles of rubble. Windows shattered for blocks around. The steel shutters of storefronts buckled.
Suddenly, the death and destruction of Lebanon's war invaded a mixed quarter of southern Beirut where Christian and Muslim neighbors had thought they were safe from the lethal standoff between Hezbollah and the Israeli armed forces.
The Lebanese Health Ministry, listing names on the national news agency, said 29 people were killed and more than 70 were wounded in the attack. Brig. Gen. Darwish Hobeika, commander of Lebanon's Civil Defense Corps, said others may still be missing.
The nearby suburbs called Dahiya, where Hezbollah is the de facto government, have been pounded repeatedly by Israeli jets since the war began July 12. Most of the residents have fled, leaving the streets empty except for stray dogs and Hezbollah cadres. But Al Shiyah, where Shiite Muslims live comfortably with Christians and give their loyalty to the Amal party of parliament speaker Nabih Berri, was not expecting to get hit.
"This is not fair," complained Mohammed al-Husseini, 35, a Brooklyn taxi driver who brought his family to Lebanon on what was supposed to be a summer vacation.
The Husseini family originally hails from Bint Jbeil, he explained, the town in the southern Lebanese hills where Israeli troops and Hezbollah militia fighters have clashed repeatedly in the 28-day-old war. But Al Shiyah was their home now, he said, the place where the clan had come to be safe from the strife that has battered southern Lebanon over 30 years.
Husseini's grandfather, Mohammed Yassin, 75, and his elderly aunt Aila and uncle Hussein were sitting at home in Al Shiyah when the missiles struck, he said. Their apartment building was blasted open on one side -- and the three elderly people now were nowhere to be found.
"They were right up there," Husseini said, pointing up to the shell of what had been a modest little apartment, its now ragged curtains flapping in the wind. "I'm confused," he added. "I could take my wife and daughter back home, I guess. But I have all my family here."
Dust hung in the hot Middle Eastern sunshine as front-end loaders shoved around blocks of concrete and cranes loaded the crumpled cars on flatbed trucks to cart them away. Husseini watched them work, wondering if and when the bodies of his family members would be uncovered in the mess. Glass shards littered the street around him, and ripped-out electricity wires dangled overhead. A neighbor held up two teddy bears picked from the devastation.
"You see what they did, the Israelis?" asked Tony Haddad, a Christian who lives down the street. "There is no Hezbollah here. No offices. No armed men. Just residential apartments. Women and children."