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Many Lebanese Shi'ites Skeptical of US Effort to Broker Solution to Conflict


The U.S. secretary of state said she is "deeply concerned" about the plight of the Lebanese people and about the humanitarian situation in Lebanon after more than a week and a half of Israeli air strikes.

Condoleezza Rice met with the Lebanese prime minister for about two hours. On her way to the Middle East, the secretary of state told reporters "a ceasefire is urgent," but she also said she wants a "sustainable" cease-fire, not an immediate, unconditional one.

The U.S. government has come under fierce criticism in Lebanon and elsewhere for refusing to call for an immediate end to Israeli airstrikes.

Here in the southern port city of Tyre, few of the Shi'ite residents in this Hezbollah stronghold have any faith in the U.S. secretary of state's efforts to broker a solution.

Khalil Mutara made his views clear while standing outside an apartment building that had just been hit by two Israeli rockets. "I think Miss Condoleezza, when she comes [to] Lebanon, she didn't want to stop the war, she only want to speak and that's all. America helps Israel... to kill the people in this Lebanon," he said.

A recent report in The New York Times said the U.S. government has expedited delivery to Israel of a pre-existing order of precision guided bombs.

Roughly half a million people have been forced from their homes in southern Lebanon and south Beirut, where Israeli air strikes have flattened Shi'ite neighborhoods. The Lebanese death toll stands at more than 370, almost all civilians. On the Israeli side of the border, Hezbollah rockets have killed at least 17 civilians. About 20 Israeli troops have died in the fighting along the border.

The United Nations is appealing for $150 million in humanitarian aid to help the people displaced by the violence.

Another man, who gave his name only as Khalil, herded his and his neighbor's children into the basement of his building as several Israeli warplanes left vapor trails in the sky high above. Speaking over the unmistakable buzz of an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, he explained why he and his family have not fled to the mountains or the north. He said, "I do not think I can afford any better security than what I have here."

Although Israeli planes have dropped leaflets warning civilians to flee for their lives, many families like Khalil's cannot afford to pay hundreds of dollars for a dangerous taxi ride out of Tyre.

At the city's port, a chartered cruise ship brought eight tons of Swiss relief supplies and then evacuated several hundred people holding European and Canadian passports. Canadian sailors in camouflage ferried passengers out to the ship in little orange-and-white boats. But far more people wanted to leave than they had room for.

A Danish-Lebanese woman named Dunia Khattab and her small child leaped onto the orange-and-white dinghy, but her husband and small son, Yusuf, did not make it.

She begged them to let her stay behind with the rest of her family, but the boat pulled away from the dock, and the family was cut in half. Cradling a weeping Yusuf in his arms, her husband, Mahmoud Ahmed, said he has no idea where or when they will be reunited. "My family [is] cut now. Because now half on ship and half on land. My problem. I don't know now. My son and my wife in ship," he said.

They stood on the dock, watching the cruise ship pull away toward the horizon. Not long afterward, the bombs started to fall again, first distant and then closer.

The shelling of Tyre and the surrounding villages continued into the night.