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Bombardment in Southern Lebanon Cuts Off Last Road Out of Tyre


In south Lebanon, the last road leading out of the city of Tyre has been cut by Israeli airstrikes. That means that aid workers may no longer be able to get vital supplies into town from the north. Israeli aircraft and warships have pummeled the surrounding villages with heavy artillery fire.

On Monday morning, residents of Tyre awoke to learn that the last remaining road connecting this city to the outside world had been bombed out.

The main bridge over the Litani River north of here was destroyed weeks ago, but cars and trucks had been using a makeshift crossing to get from Tyre to Beirut and back. The detour was a dirt road that led through banana fields, orange orchards and a graveyard.

With that route obliterated, Tyre is isolated.

The Lebanese army was working hard to repair the road, but the Israeli Defense Force reportedly warned them that their heavy machinery could be targeted, forcing the army to curtail repair efforts.

Red Cross Volunteer Kassim Shalaan said severing that last link to the north could lead to an even greater humanitarian crisis. "Yes, for sure, 100 percent, because all our supplies are coming from Beirut, which means there is no way for any medical equipment, or for food and bread and water for the people in the villages," said Shalaan. "At the same time, it's a big problem for us as Red Cross, because we transfer casualties from this hospital here to another hospital in Beirut and in Sidon.... So I don't know what the situation is going to be if this road is still closed. But I can tell you it's going to be very, very, very bad. So I hope they can fix it soon."

Because Tyre is a gateway to the rest of south Lebanon, that means the entire region is now cut off.

Even before the road was bombed, Ali Najem, a medical student working at a local hospital, said supplies were running out. "We are running out of the medications for the chronic diseases - diabetes, asthma, for the babies, antibiotics," said Najem. "That's it. We called the International Red Cross and Doctors [Without Borders] and they are not reaching us. They took the list of medications, but they couldn't supply us."

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) went north to the river to meet colleagues who were headed down from the city of Sidon with medicines and supplies. The plan was to transfer the boxes over the impact crater by hand, and then bring them back to Tyre.

A television crew that tried to follow the convoy turned around after several rockets struck nearby.

Even United Nations peacekeepers found themselves stuck in Tyre. A convoy of eight U.N. trucks and three armored vehicles sat by the roadside, unable to head north or south.

The convoy's commander, French Staff Sergeant Jimmy Gobe, said the trucks were empty. They had been headed to Beirut to resupply and refuel, but with the road to Beirut impassible, they were turning around and heading back. He said they were still waiting for clearance from the Israeli military to return to their base in Naqoura, near the border.

The road leading south was heavily shelled all day, and was also largely impassible. Several buildings just south of Tyre were hit, and casualties were reported, but the Red Cross ambulance trying to reach the area had to turn back because of continued bombardment.

The Israeli bombardment of south Lebanon has intensified as negotiations at the United Nations neared a deal aimed at ending the conflict. Hezbollah has also fired large numbers of rockets into northern Israel over the last several days. Both sides seem intent on inflicting as much damage as possible, before any possible cease-fire agreement comes out of the U.N.

The Israeli military has now warned everyone living south of the Litani River not to go outside after 10 p.m. local time Monday.

And so this southern port city is truly in lockdown.

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