Bright red buses from Tel Aviv now ply Lebanon's coastal highway to the outskirts of Beirut, bringing in fresh troops and returning Israeli reservists needed at home.

Soldiers waiting at a bus stop here, high above the Lebanese capital, take photos of the skyline and speculate about what it must have been in the days when Beirut was known as the Paris of the Middle East.

The panorama of war from this Beirut suburb, including the now barren runways of Beirut International Airport, seems surrealistic in the extreme to this visitor who departed by car--accompanied from the Lebanese border by an Israeli escort--just hours before from the tranquility of Jerusalem.

The occasional thump of artillery and chatter of machine-gun fire just up the road in Khalde mingles with the Hebrew pop songs blaring from radios perched atop armored personnel carriers and tuned into the Voice of Israel broadcasting from Jerusalem.

A few miles south, the once prosperous town of Damour, savaged by years of civil war and relentless pounding by Israeli warplanes and gunboats, is empty of any discernible life. Columns of heavy artillery rumble past it, pulled by halftrack Army vehicles.

Some of the few remaining families in the spacious villas of Doha sit alongside their empty swimming pools and laconically talk about the occupation army. Bivouacked Israeli soldiers camp close to their carefully tended lawns.

"A few days before the invasion, I decided to bring my family back from London so the children could take their exams here. Good timing, no? We've spent the last week in the basement," said a well-to-do Lebanese consulting engineer whose office in central Beirut is cut off by the foward Israeli line.

His European wife seemed less stoic about their circumstances. Describing the Israeli action in Doha, she said, "They claim that they killed seven Palestinian guerrillas. I don't believe it. The only Palestinians here were passing through, and I can tell you, this place was quiet, quiet, quiet. If you do a thing on this scale, the people who have always resented the Palestinians will stop resenting them and start sympathizing with them."

She added, "Yes, there are Lebanese people who may have wanted this to happen to the Palestinians. But this way? The Americans are letting the Israelis act like little children with temper tantrums, smashing everything around."

Around the corner from former president Suleiman Franjieh's palatial house, the front door of the home of a Beirut publisher swings open at a knock. The family has fled to safer ground. Although some windows have been shattered by gunfire, the elegant furnishings appear to be untouched. But neighbors say looters have begun wandering into vacant houses.

Down the steep hill, close to the coastal road, a house lies collapsed by a bomb, with the body of a Lebanese cook still buried underneath it. A guardhouse at the entrance to the suburb, once used by private guards of the wealthy homeowners, is riddled by bullets.

However, the striking thing about the environs of Beirut when viewed from the Israeli side is not so much the destruction as the proximity to an entirely different world in nearby Israel.

Barely 60 miles to the south is the Israeli resort town of Nahariya, with its broad promenades and wide expanses of beach. There, Israeli housewives and their children serve cool drinks to the tired drivers of flatbed trailers hauling more tanks to the front.

Another three-hour drive southeast is Jerusalem, seemingly oblivious to the violence of Beirut and southern Lebanon. It seems almost like a Sunday outing to leave the capital early in the morning and by noon be at the edge of Beirut, which the Palestine Liberation Organization has threatened to turn into "another Stalingrad" if the Israeli Army moves inside. By nightfall, a visitor can be back in Jerusalem.

"Did you ever think you would make a day outing to Beirut from Jerusalem?," asks an Israeli officer in the bivouac area at Doha. Without waiting for a reply, he answers, "Jews in Palestine used to do it all the time before 1948; maybe we'll do it again."

But in Sidon, just 40 miles from the Israeli border, there are signs of more Palestinian resistance than the Israeli government has admitted so far.

A long line of Israeli vehicles was abruptly halted in midafternoon when caught between two pockets of guerrillas. Mortars fired by PLO holdouts barricaded in the Ein Hilweh refugee village, about a mile from the coastal road, exploded in Sidon's main street. What appeared to be a fierce firefight farther south along the road delayed traffic for more than an hour until Israeli "mop-up" units cleared the area. Israeli officers said PLO guerrillas were holed up inside the refugee village at Ein Hilweh and holding Lebanese civilians hostage.

In Sidon's Shabb Hospital, a private clinic, Ramzi Shabb estimated that 3,000 of the town's residents had been killed during Israeli air raids and artillery shelling. Shabb, a Lebanese Christian, added: The Israeli invasion "has relieved us from the constant threat of destruction that came with the Palestinians. Whatever the price of peace, it is cheap."