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Civilians Bear Brunt of Israeli Bombardment in South Lebanon


Southern Lebanon is bearing the brunt of Israeli airstrikes that have now gone on nearly two weeks. The towns and villages of the Shiite-dominated south have been pounded by artillery, killing more than 370 people and wounding many more. Hezbollah has continued firing rockets into northern Israel, but only a handful of Hezbollah militants are known to have been killed in the fighting. The vast majority of the victims in Lebanon are civilians.

Most of the bombs come from far above, from planes flying so high that they appear to the naked eye like tiny specks streaking across the sky.

But in the main hospital in Tyre, it is all too easy to see what the planes leave behind.

Doctor Abdullah Shehab is checking on a patient, a seven-year-old girl named Samah, who arrived at the hospital Sunday, after she was wounded in an Israeli air strike. He says she has shrapnel wounds, some of them quite deep.

"She is calling for her mother," he said.

Samah seems lost in the hospital bed, staring up at visitors with bewildered brown eyes. The doctor draws back her bed sheets to reveal her tiny arms and legs, wrapped in white gauze. Except for her face, almost every inch of her body is covered in bandages.

On the other side of the room, Mohamed Al-Ayan, 15, is recovering from abdominal wounds and a broken arm after an air strike on his home.

"I was fast asleep, it was at one o'clock in the morning, and my first thoughts were, what is happening here? And where is my mother, where is my grandmother? I was just being moved, I had no idea what was going on," he said.

He says he and his mother were trapped in their house after an Israeli shell hit his uncle's home upstairs. The walls had collapsed, and it took a while before anyone was able to get inside to drag them out.

Down the hall, Dr. Shehab greets another recent arrival, an 80-year-old woman with serious leg injuries.

WOMAN: "Do I still need a second operation?"
SHEHAB: "We need to investigate further."

The doctor says she has no feeling in her left foot. She was wounded for the second time in an airstrike that hit a Red Cross ambulance on the way to Tyre.

She and her son and 14-year-old grandson had already been hurt in their remote village of Tebnine. They were being transferred from one ambulance to another when both vehicles were struck by Israeli bombs. Six Red Cross workers were also injured. The doctor says one of them lost a leg.

In room after room of the hospital, women and children lie hooked up to monitors and catheters and oxygen tubes. One woman has been unconscious, on a respirator since last week. A little girl sits in the lobby, her face covered with red shrapnel wounds.

Dr. Shehab says they have not run out of medical supplies.

"No, we are O.K. 'till now, up to now, we have everything. But after that, I do not know how many days we can continue, for how many days, we do not know. Maybe one week, two weeks, like this," he said.

The hospital director, Dr. Ahmed Mroue, says the city of Tyre, which he calls by its Arabic name, Sour, has seen war before, but nothing like this.

"It is the worst war that we have seen between the five wars here in Sour," he said. "The number of wounded persons, the majority serious, all of them civilians. All of them. There is no soldier between them. 'Till now we receive 331, and I see that it is a war against the civilian persons, against the cars taking civilians running out from here. It is a war against humanity."

The Israeli military says its bombing is harming civilians because Hezbollah is hiding its rocket launchers in civilian neighborhoods, using the people of southern Lebanon as human shields.

But there have been numerous strikes on vehicles moving to evacuate residents and on ambulances trying to rescue the wounded. Trucks trying to bring food and medical supplies to the south have been blown off the roads.

The roads and bridges have been bombed, so the voyage to safety in the north is long and treacherous. During a lull in the shelling, a steady trickle of cars was still making its way.

About 20 passengers are packed into a small bus as it bounces along on a dirt road detour through fields of banana and orange trees. After nearly two weeks of air raids, Mohamed Kassem is escaping north to Sidon to join his family, who were staying with relatives when the war broke out. He says the situation in his village is dire.

"But the problem [is that] there is no food," he said. "There is not food, not water, no electric, no milk for a child. It is a big problem for humanity, big problem."

Most of the people with the means to flee have already done so. Those who remain behind are mainly poor, without the money to make the journey out. Others are simply determined not to be chased from their homes, no matter what the cost.

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