Monday, July 17, 2006

Getting on with it?

As of today, I have spent a straight week in Lebanon. In that week, the country has been set back by several years. Last Tuesday, Beirutis were confident and looking to the future. Now the Lebanese are nervous, seeing their recent sad history replayed before them.

More Israeli strikes took place overnight. Half-a-dozen loud explosions rocked Beirut, further targeting the southern suburbs and the port. Two lorry drivers were killed as the port car park was shelled.

But Hamra is busier today. Most of the shops remain closed, but a few have lifted their shutters, perhaps realising that they cannot stay locked forever. There were more people on Rue Hamra, and considerably more cars. Life goes on, to the whirring of the generators. The generators are perhaps the one positive legacy from the civil war at this moment – despite the power stations being knocked out, the lights stay on.

While the practicalities of life are possible in Hamra - an area that has not been directly targeted by the strikes - people here have relatives and friends in the southern suburbs. They are trying their best, but one can see that the emotional weight is heavy.

Some of the residents here are leaving. A yellow VW Camper van was being loaded with suitcases, holdalls and plastic shopping bags of personal effects as I walked through Hamra this morning. It’s not only foreign nationals that are anxious to escape.

I went to Royal Jordanian’s office this morning to get advice on my return flight this Thursday. The office was, unsurprisingly, closed. When I called Royal Jordanian’s offices they said they would put me up in a hotel for the night if I got to Amman one day before my flight.

However, getting to Amman is impossible. The airline understandably has no contingency plan in place for such unusual circumstances. A taxi ride to Amman would involve a circuitous route through northern Syria, as the main road to Damascus has been shelled. It’s too much of a risk.

So, all I can do is wait for the UK evacuation. I have heard nothing from the embassy thus far. The waiting is difficult, particularly when I think of how much of a burden it’s placing on family and friends at home.

It’s also an odd feeling to have the hotel staff show such concern at a time when they are the ones most at risk. “The French are taking people back! Go to their embassy, demand you be sent home. It’s dangerous here. You must go!” said the man at the check-in desk. “When’s your flight home? Go to Tripoli, and then across to Syria!” To get such advice while the Lebanese sit it out is pretty overwhelming at times.

Meanwhile, the images of Lebanon’s destruction mount up. It’s turning out to be one grisly photo album. When Israel’s army stated that Lebanon’s clock would be “turned back 20 years”, they weren’t joking. The Daily Star, Lebanon’s English language paper, today reports that Israel has used internationally banned weapons in its airstrikes in the south, such as cluster and phosphorous bombs. It’s not out of the question - such shells have been used by Israel before in Lebanon.

It’s certain that Hizbullah will continue to retaliate, hurling rockets into Israel and killing the innocent. Meaning there will be reciprocal bombings from Israel, more injuries, more deaths, and the widening of a humanitarian crisis. It’s difficult to think of a way out.


Shannon Hines said...

Great job on the Today Programme, hope to see you soon Andy

James McLaren said...

keep your spirits up andy! lots of us here are thinking of you.
James McLaren