Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MIDDLE EAST - View From Lebanon

"Bitterness grows in Lebanese resort city Hezbollah support, anger at U.S. rises with Israeli attacks" by Christopher Allbritton, Chronicle Foreign Service
(07-28) 04:00 PDT Tyre, Lebanon

Mustafa Shalaan's last trip out to sea occurred two days before Israel launched its war against Hezbollah.

The catch wasn't good, he said, and he hasn't been out since. He says he has no idea how he will earn a living or stay safe while the conflict rages.

"Safe?" asked the 65-year-old fisherman, gesturing helplessly as Israeli helicopter gunships cruised the coast and surveillance drones buzzed overhead. "God is the only safety. There is no safety here."

Shalaan's tale of present losses and future uncertainty is one repeated in Tyre and across Lebanon after two weeks of Israeli attacks. While some residents have settled in for what could be a long siege, many others have fled.

Much of this once-bustling seaside resort town of 120,000 is deserted. Rusting corrugated steel gates shutter storefronts. What traffic there is on the streets consists mostly of ambulances and cars with the letters TV taped on them. Every now and then a pocket of normalcy emerges -- children playing soccer on the beach or a family smoking water pipes in front of their home.

Mayor Abdel-Mohsen el-Husseini, estimates that about 30,000 residents remain in the city. Another 15,000 people, he said, have sought refuge from Israeli attacks in other areas. On Wednesday, the first U.N. convoy rolled in with 90 tons of wheat flour and much needed medicine. Khalid Mansour, the U.N. spokesman in Lebanon who wore a bulletproof vest to ride with the shipment, said the food would be sufficient for 20,000 people and last only a week.

"Those who want to stay, can stay -- and starve," said el-Husseini.

He said the aerial bombings have caused a sharp rise in anger against the United States. "It's very simple, really," he said. "Most of these bombs falling on our heads and the jets dropping them are American made."

So bitter is Tyre's 70-year-old mayor over the war that he even refused aid from the U.S. Embassy this week.

"From the U.S. government, I will not take," he said after a U.S. official called to offer help. "Even if they came all the way down from Beirut, I would not take it."

But there has been a corresponding rise in support for Hezbollah in Tyre and across Lebanon -- even among groups that previously have opposed the Islamic group. According to a survey by the Beirut Center for Research and Information conducted this week, 87 percent said they support Hezbollah in its fight against Israel.

Ghassan Farran, a physician whose home was destroyed by Israeli bombs Wednesday, shook his fist at reporters as he stood among the charred rubble.

"I was not with Hezbollah, but now I am," he said. "I will fight for Hezbollah. I will fight (Bush)! I will fight him every time, every day."

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