By Seema Mustafa*

(This article was first published in Asian Age:

BEIRUT – Lebanon is a country that has clearly not lost its spirit,

but is worried, unhappy, and, as no one hesitates to tell you, "very very

angry". The eight-hour drive from Damascus to Beirut, through a circuitous

route taking us all the way along the coastline to the north Daebouissie

checkpoint to enter north Lebanon, is dotted with signs of devastation,

fleeing refugees and a nation that has not lost its resilience and has

united behind Hezbollah and its charismatic 48-year-old leader, Sayyed

Hassan Nasrallah.

Families with little children are queued up in battered cars in the heat,

waiting for their papers to be cleared for entry into Syria. A young mother

of four little children said her house was not bombed. "We did not want to

leave but have to because our children are so frightened when the Israeli

planes come," she said. A father sitting with two bright young sons speaking

perfect English is leaving his home in north Lebanon to go to Damascus. For

how long? He shrugs, "Who knows, but we will come back." His sons are sombre

but resigned that their studies will be interrupted as now the war has

spread into the north as well and the schools have been closed. Little

children from the refugee families are begging for food and some are

offering to shine shoes in return for much needed money. 

Three km from the border and the signs of Israeli aggression begin to

appear. Just four hours before we passed by, the Israeli planes attacked a

bridge and destroyed it. This seems to be the pattern throughout as all

bridges along the route have been hit with the Lebanese now using side roads

to travel. The main Syria-Beirut highway is unusable as it has been

completely bombed with no side roads for the travellers to use. At Haissa,

in a bombing just 24 hours old, 12 persons were killed and 10 badly wounded

in an Israeli air raid. Five days ago, a Palestinian refugee camp near

Tripoli was the target with a police post being attacked by Israeli war

planes in which eight Lebanese policemen were killed. A little further down

we come across yet another bridge destroyed six days ago; there were

casualties although no one was around to give us the figures. A burnt car

was mute testimony to the fact that persons had died in this attack as well.

Not a single bridge was left intact with the air raids over the past week

destroying this very valuable infrastructure in north Lebanon, which is

officially not being targeted by the Israelis.

The other visible target in the area was petrol pumps. Lebanon is without

fuel now, with one huge petrol pump lying devastated at Abi Shamra along

with a bridge and the electricity poles in the vicinity. This attack took

place on Saturday morning as well. Lebanese citizens have climbed the poles

and are trying to restore electricity while others point to the devastation

and voice their anger. It was clear within 10 km into Lebanon that the

Israeli targets were not military in nature with all efforts on to destroy

the infrastructure, stop the supplies of gas, food and essential commodities

as the trucks cannot use the narrow side roads, and to make life impossible

for the Lebanese civilians. "They are fighting us, not the military, our

Hezbollah is fighting their military, not their civilians," a Lebanese

pointed out quietly.

The UN Security Council might have approved of a resolution, but there has

been no let-up in the Israeli offensive here, in north or south Lebanon. The

bombing continues with the hotels in Beirut, the market places and the

squares full of displaced persons from the south. The little hotel where we

are staying is crowded with the displaced Lebanese whose women have tears in

their eyes, whose men can barely speak without emotion overtaking them as

most of them have had their homes destroyed and their relatives killed. A

lovely woman sitting by and smoking the traditional hookah in the lobby

says, as if she were discussing the weather: "My home is completely gone, we

dont think this is going to stop. We are here now, tomorrow even this hotel

might not be safe." There is fear in the eyes of her little girl, who had

just given her exams for the final year in school but does not know what is

going to happen to her and her family now. They are from Tyre. 

White phosphorus bombs are being used by Israel, but so far there is no

trace of uranium-tipped bombs. Two-ton bombs have been used in the

neighbourhood. Civilian localities have been virtually destroyed in south

Beirut and the suburbs. This sparkling city is a ghost town with a leading

social activist here pointing out: "It is a very high intensity war." The

shops have their shutters down and only the signs speak of a Beirut that is

famous all across the world for its night life. Casinos, beautiful luxury

resorts along the coastline and stylish beauty salons speak of another

world, but all that one sees now are tense-looking people rushing about in

the day hours trying to get some fuel, food and complete their business

before the Israeli fighter planes come swooping down again.

The Lebanese in Beirut have started getting telephone calls on their

mobiles. It is a psychological warfare method that Israel has perfected. The

caller says words to this effect: "This is the Israeli Army. If you are very

close to the Hezbollah we advise you not to remain in touch. We are going to

smash them and we do not want to hurt you." The intent is to create fear,

but the Lebanese who spoke of this to us said, "We are all laughing, it is

so juvenile and so very stupid." Incidentally, this report is being filed

after the UN Security Council resolution that has brought no relief at all

to the region. No one here in Beirut expects much from it, and while there

might be some hope, there is also a clear resolve to follow "the Hezbollah

and whatever decision it takes". The Hezbollah has made it clear that it

expects the Lebanese government to take the right decision "in the interests

of the nation" and it will abide by it. For the people living under terror,

this is semantics; for them the war will end only after, as they all say to

the last child, "Israel vacates our land and we can go home."

* Seema Mustafa is a member of the 12-person International Civil Society-Parliamentary

Peace Mission that is currently in Lebanon. She is Resident Editor of Asian Age.