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Lebanon / Israel

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lebanon mission: update 2

The last two nights have seen some of the heaviest bombardment of Beirut. More civilian infrastructure has been destroyed. Today we visited
Baalbak in the Beqaa valley.

Beqaa Valley, 5th August

We drove up to the Beqaa Valley town of Baalbak today, about 150 km east of Beirut and famous for its ruins of Roman temples. At about 10 am, as we were passing by the village of Hilanya, there was an Israeli air strike on a fuel truck outside a small garage on the main road, setting the truck ablaze. Thick black smoke rose above the flames as the traffic was diverted and villagers hurried away from the main road and from the burning truck.

Repeated Israeli air strikes on the town have forced close to 80% of the population of Baalbak – some 120,000 - to flee. Entire neighbourhoods and suburbs are now totally deserted. Clothes hang from washing lines and cats scurry around the streets but most of the residents have left in the past two weeks. We drove through eerily silent neighbourhood after neighbourhood.

Baalbak City, 5th August

Several neighbourhoods in Baalbak have been totally destroyed by repeated Israeli bombardments. Whole blocks of houses have been reduced to lumps of rubble. Several residents have been killed in such attacks and as a result the remaining inhabitants have been forcibly displaced by the fear of such attacks. The families have moved elsewhere, flooding other cities and towns. At least 800,000 of people have been forcibly displaced from their homes by the frequent Israeli bombardments, and a country with a population of less than 4 million is struggling to cope. Some have fled to neighbouring Syria or to other countries, but hundreds of thousands are sleeping in schools and public parks.

In Baalbak we heard from eyewitnesses, including medical doctors, about how an entire family was wiped out in an Israeli air strike. During the night of 1 and 2 August, a family of agricultural workers, a husband and wife and four of their children, aged between three and fifteen were killed, and their other three children, aged from nine months to nine years, were seriously wounded, when Israeli forces launched scores of missiles into several areas of Baalbak. In the same night the air strikes killed several other people, including a pregnant woman and two children in a nearby neighbourhood.

We later investigated the reported killings of at least 23 agricultural workers in an Israeli air strike on 4 August (yesterday) on the village of al-Qaa, North of Baalbak. A local priest told us that he witnessed the air strike from the roof of his church compound. He said that as he was preparing to leave to go to the scene of the attack to offer assistance another missile hit the same farm. He rushed there and found that at least 23 Syrian agricultural workers, including at least five women, had been killed and several others injured.
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