Fighting Intensifies Before Truce

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The New York Sun

TYRE, Lebanon — Tyre’s beleaguered residents endured the worst attacks of the war yesterday as Israel unleashed the full fury of its war machine on southern Lebanon.

Dazed and bloodied, civilians who had managed to flee the bombardments walked or were carried to hospitals in the city.

But for most, no escape was possible. Beyond the reach of Tyre’s overstretched emergency services just a few miles away, families cowered in their homes as the bombs rained down.

The trapped and the wounded made frantic telephone calls to the Lebanese Red Cross, which has repeatedly ventured out during air raids in recent weeks despite losing four ambulances.

This time, though, the organization was virtually confined to base as Israeli forces used the last few hours before cease-fire to step up their expanded military operation against what they said were Hezbollah positions in the south.

Red Cross ambulances completed just two missions. Attempts to reach the wounded a few minutes’ drive away had to be aborted because of the bombing.

“This is the worst day I’ve ever seen,” the head of the charity’s Tyre office, Fami Yazbek, said. “I cannot compare it to anything.”

Israeli forces did not just attack the south. In the pro-Hezbollah suburbs of southern Beirut, 20 missiles fell in the space of two minutes, while Israeli jets attacked targets in 50 towns and villages elsewhere in the country.

Yet, once again, it was the 100,000 Lebanese civilians stranded south of the Litani River, the boundary of Israel’s ground offensive, who bore the brunt of the attacks.

At least 11 civilians were killed on the outskirts of Tyre, which echoed with the sound of artillery fire, bombs, and missiles throughout the day as Israeli forces advanced ever closer.

Smoke clouded the horizon after bombs destroyed seven of the city’s gas stations, two of them next to the Najem hospital, where windows were smashed and fire threatened to engulf the building.

“The flames are lashing the building, our ill and wounded patients are threatened with smoke inhalation,” the hospital’s director, Jawad Najm, said.

The Lebanese army and fire brigade tried to reach the hospital but were beaten back by relentless bombardment.

In desperation, some civilians tried to run the gantlet themselves, despite a no-drive zone in the south and Israeli missile strikes against vehicles that have flouted it.

Early in the afternoon, a battered green Mercedes careened toward the Jabal Amel hospital, its eight passengers waving frantically. As the doors of the vehicle opened, hospital paramedics rushed to receive the wounded, only to be repulsed by a massive explosion nearby. They eventually got to the occupants, including an unconscious elderly man.

The victims were members of a family whose house had been bombed in Thakana, a village just outside Tyre. A neighbor who had driven the car, Hassan Akil, said: “For two hours we were calling the Red Cross, but no one came. One of the injured was almost dying, we had no choice but to drive here.”

And so the arrivals at the hospital continued. A military ambulance delivered a seriously injured Lebanese soldier. Another car disgorged wounded civilians. A suspected Hezbollah fighter leapt from the back of a motorcycle and hobbled through the hospital doors, a T-shirt pulled up over his bandaged face to protect his identity.

Along the main road that runs next to the hospital — a dangerous stretch where at least five motorcyclists have been killed by Israeli missiles — people were trying to flee. Two shepherds were driving several hundred sheep toward the center of Tyre.

“It was very risky back there. They bombed beside us,” Ahmad Jishi said. “What else could I do?”

All the while, explosions continued, some a fair distance away, others rattling the hospital’s windows.

The New York Sun

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