Is­raeli re­servists re­turn from front as Le­banon digs out

Le­banese re­turn to ru­ins, hunt for bod­ies Say foe ‘con­trolled the bat­tle­field’

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Betsy Pisik By Joshua Mit­nick

BINT JBEIL, Le­banon — Le­banese sifted throughtheru­ins of shat­tered­town­sand vil­lages onAug. 15, look­ing for sur­vivors or sim­ply frag­ments of their for­mer lives, with scant re­gard for Is­raeli warn­ings that it is not yet safe to re­turn.

Rescuecrews dig­ging with shov­els and bare hands pulled out bod­ies that could­not­bere­cov­ered­while the fight­ing raged.

Hardly a build­ing re­mained in­tact in Bint Jbeil, a Hezbol­lah strong­hold that be­came the scene of more than aweek of in­tense ground com­bat.

“My God, my God,” said an el­derly wo­man, her voice so hoarse it was al­most in­audi­ble. She stood at the crest of town to look down at the de­struc­tion, weep­ing.

Res­cue work­ers and young men scram­bled over the wreck­age to reach the rub­ble of ahome that had en­tombed an en­tire fam­ily.

Doc­tors from Qatar worked be­side towns­peo­ple to pry loose huge rocks and twisted steel. They la­bored for hours, with the smell of de­cay­grow­ing­more in­tense as they got closer.

De­spite the thou­sands of re­turn­ing res­i­dents who have clogged roads since dawn on Mon­day, only a hand­ful of vis­i­bly shocked re­turnees could be seen in the streets of this and other vil­lages.

“There are veryfew peo­ple here, and they are hid­ing,” said Mathias Lenggenhager, a Geneva-based re­lief man­ager and agron­o­mist for the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The ICRC es­ti­mates that fewer than300 fam­i­lies stayed in south­ern Le­banon through­out the siege.

Is­raeli air­craft dropped leaflets warn­ing civil­ians not to re­turn home un­til in­ter­na­tional troops are de­ployed­be­cause“the sit­u­a­tion will re­main dan­ger­ous.”

Re­lief work­ers on Aug. 15 made it to vil­lages where they fear some res­i­dents have­been shel­ter­ing for a month with­out pro­vi­sions. But the agency found few res­i­dents to ac­cept food, blan­kets and­hy­giene kits. Wire ser­vices said re­lief work­ers found 15 bod­ies across south­ern Le­banon.

Re­turn­ing to Bint Jbeil is no easy mat­ter, which ex­plains why so few fam­i­lies have made it back.

There is a three- to four-hour traf­fic jam to get across the Li­tani River, and the roads are so badly bombed that ev­ery few miles the sur­face gives way to a crater deep enough to swal­low a school bus.

Once inside the town, one finds en­tire streets lost un­der rub­ble and pieces of furniture vis­i­ble through sheared off walls.

The mosque is awash in bro­ken con­crete an­dac­cent­ed­with­burned, flipped-over cars.

For the Dbaga fam­ily, the pain was over­whelm­ing.

They re­turned on the af­ter­noon of Aug. 15 to their home in nearby Ai­nata, but found it lev­eled.

With noth­ing left to claim, the fam­ily piled back into their car, and spent their last bit of money on gaso­line and tried to drive away. But the car bot­tomed-out on the rough road, the gas tank rup­tured.

De­spite the as­sis­tance of a half­dozen strangers, the car hem­or­rhaged fuel and the fam­ily was stranded.

Strangers passed food and wa­ter be­tween ve­hi­cles and freely shared cig­a­rettes.

Le­banese sol­diers, who are to be de­ployed in the south as part of a peace agree­ment bro­kered by the United Na­tions, have been work­ing round-the-clock to patch roads and build cross­ings over the Li­tani River.

Tra­di­tion­ally, the Le­bane­searmy has main­tained only a cos­metic pres­ence in an area con­trolled by Hezbol­lah guer­ril­las.

KIRYAT SHE­MONA, Is­rael — Sev­eral hun­dred foot-weary re­servists trudged home across the border on Aug. 15 as Is­rael be­gan thin­ning its troop pres­ence in Le­banon less than 48 hours into a ten­u­ous cease-fire.

Re­lieved to be back in Is­rael, re­turn­ing sol­diers de­scribed an en­emy that had con­trolled the bat­tle­field and en­joyed the el­e­ment of sur­prise.

“The fight­ers of Hezbol­lah had six years to pre­pare. It’s their stage. They are the di­rec­tor, and you are the ac­tor,” said Yaron Yaniv, a sniper who spent the pre­vi­ous five days in Le­banon. “It’s their land. They know the disad­van­tages and the ad­van­tages.”

Only a few scat­tered in­ci­dents dis­rupted the cease-fire that took ef­fect at 8 a.m. Aug. 14. Is­rael said its forces killed five Hezbol­lah fight­ers on Aug. 15 in de­fen­sive ac­tions.

No ca­su­alty re­port was avail­able from Hezbol­lah, but its al­lies took to the air­waves pro­claim­ing a vic­tory for the Ira­nian-armed or­ga­ni­za­tion and a changed Mid­dle East.

In a stri­dent post-war ad­dress, Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad said Is­rael risked de­feat un­less it sought peace with Arab coun­tries. He de­clared the war a “fail­ure for Is­raeli and its ally,” re­fer­ring to the United States.

Mr. As­sad also pledged to “lib­er­ate” the Golan Heights, cap­tured by Is­rael from Syria in 1967, “with our hands and de­ter­mi­na­tion,” ac­cord­ing to wire ser­vice re­ports from Da­m­as­cus. He de­clared the Arab-Is­raeli peace process dead and said “the next gen­er­a­tions in the Arab world will find a way to de­feat Is­rael.”

Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad told a large crowd in the Ira­nian city of Ar­badil that “God’s prom­ises have come true.”

“On one side, it is cor­rupt pow­ers of the crim­i­nal U.S. and Bri­tain and the Zion­ists [. . .] with mod­ern bombs and planes. And on the other side is a group of pious youth re­ly­ing on God.”

In Kiryat She­mona and other towns in north­ern Is­rael, res­i­dents who had spent long weeks in bomb shel­ters or fur­ther south be­gan sur­vey­ing the dam­age from the daily rain of Hezbol­lah mis­siles.

At one road junc­tion, teenaged girls handed flow­ers to Is­raeli sol­diers as they passed on foot.

Is­raeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Ha­lutz found him­self fight­ing on a new front on Aug. 15, fac­ing calls for his dis­missal af­ter re­ports that he sold off in­vest­ments in the first hours of the month­long cri­sis.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary has come un­der a tor­rent of crit­i­cism say­ing it was un­pre­pared to fight Hezbol­lah in Le­banon. Is­raeli news Web sites said law­mak­ers span­ning the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum were press­ing for Gen. Ha­lutz to re­sign.

Sit­ting in a wheel­chair with stitches af­ter be­ing in­jured by an anti-tank mis­sile that struck his tank, Cpl. Michael Mizrahi said Hezbol­lah had dis­played a high level of train­ing in its use of ad­vanced weapons. “They know how to fire and where to fire,” he said.

Cpl. Mizrahi’s tank was hit af­ter he and his crew had given up the search for a Hezbol­lah squad fir­ing rock­ets into Is­rael. The gun­ner com­plained that Hezbol­lah fight­ers shoot and then melt into the pop­u­la­tion or dive into a bunker. Driv­ing a tank in south­ern Le­banon ex­posed the crew to se­vere dan­ger, he said.

Laid up in a ward of Haifa’s main hospi­tal, Capt. Arik Dayan said Hezbol­lah was fight­ing a dif­fer­ent sort of war, in which the goal was not to con­quer ter­ri­tory, but to in­flict max­i­mum ca­su­al­ties.

“They say, ‘Come take the vil­lage,’ then they come to you,” he said. “They work in small groups. Sim­plic­ity wins.”

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

Rod­ney Lamkey Jr. / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Home­ward bound: Le­banese, their ve­hi­cles packed with their be­long­ings, waited to cross the Li­tani River into south­ern Le­banon on Aug. 15. Peo­ple were stuck in traf­fic jams for as long as four hours as the roads, pock­marked by craters caused by Is­raeli bombs, made travel slow.

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