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Civilian Death Toll in Lebanon Passes 300

On the eighth day of Israel's military campaign in Lebanon Wednesday, the Lebanese death toll passed 300, almost all civilians. Intense fighting along the border left two Israeli soldiers dead, and a Hezbollah rocket strike in Nazareth killed two Israeli civilians. As the Israeli blockade of Lebanon continues, there are concerns about a looming humanitarian disaster.

The eighth day of Israeli air strikes pummeled the southern region of Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley in the east.

Lebanon's minister of economy and trade, Sami Haddad, told reporters it was the single deadliest day since the Israeli military offensive began a week ago. "We are really facing a humanitarian disaster. The estimate is that we have around half a million refugees. Today the death toll is 55, it's the highest number of casualties, civilian casualties in any one day. This brings the total number killed to more than 300 people," he said.

The violence erupted a week ago after the militant group Hezbollah crossed the Israeli border and captured two Israeli soldiers. Israel claims it has wiped out half of Hezbollah's arsenal with a week of air strikes.

From its stronghold in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has continued firing rockets into northern Israel. The latest Hezbollah strikes killed two Israeli Arab children in Nazareth. Intense gunbattles between Israeli troops and Hezbollah militants along the border Wednesday killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded nine.

In Beirut, Haddad renewed the Lebanese government's plea for a cease fire and said his ministry is working to make sure that supplies of essential goods do not run out. "We have essential supplies that last around two months.... Because of the difficulty of transportation and the fact that bridges have been blown up, it has become extremely difficult to get these supplies to certain areas of the country. The Israeli aerial bombardment is not making it any easier. And basically any large transportation vehicle, trucks in American English and lorries in British English, are being bombed. So it's becoming pretty difficult," he said.

Lebanon was still rebuilding from its disastrous 15-year civil war when the latest crisis erupted. The economy was booming, and the country looked solidly on the road to recovery.

Not anymore. The minister said Lebanon's infrastructure and economy are being destroyed. "There are very few bridges remaining in the country. We estimate that 40 bridges have been destroyed... Airport runways, buildings everywhere! Buildings! Factories! We have had four factories [bombed], including a factory in the east of the country that produces milk and dairy products. These targets have no military value whatsoever.... There is a factory that produces tissue paper. We have no military industry!," he said.

Meanwhile, the evacuation of foreigners from Lebanon continued.

The evacuations have been chaotic and slow, sparking many complaints. Thousands of people clutching their passports massed at the Canadian rendezvous point, and several passed out from heat exhaustion after standing in the burning sun for hours, waiting for their names to be called.

One family piled their luggage in the middle of the street and sat down, blocking traffic in protest.

The vast majority of the people who are leaving on chartered ships and military vessels are Lebanese citizens with dual nationalities. Their Western passports are allowing them to escape the Israeli bombardment and whatever chaos might follow. Businessman Alec Yevarian said he is frustrated, disgusted and sad to be leaving under these conditions. "I left Lebanon in '75 when I was nine years old, and now I'm leaving with my children, 25 years later. I came back six years ago from Canada, built enterprises here, built employment, and now everything is stopped. What can I tell you? It's awful, disastrous for this country. And I hope that it will be solved quickly, because these people don't deserve it," he said.

For the first time Wednesday, the Israeli military bombed a residential area that is not Shi'ite. They blew up a well-drilling truck in the Beirut neighborhood of Achrafiyeh, a Christian area with no Hezbollah presence whatsoever. Some nearby residents and political analysts said they believed the point was to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims, or to send a message to the country's most influential Christian leader, General Michel Aoun, who has allied himself politically with Hezbollah.