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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 August 2006, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Walking in fear in Lebanon's no-drive zone
By Jim Muir
BBC News, Tyre

Man walks through the streets of Tyre
The streets of Tyre are largely deserted except for those on foot

Moving anywhere in Lebanon south of the Litani River today is an eerie and unnerving experience.

Since Monday, when Israeli jets dropped leaflets warning unequivocally that any vehicles daring to travel would be hit, there has been virtually no traffic on the roads. Not that there was much before.

So in Tyre, the only way to move without that dire threat hanging over you, is to walk. And even that is hardly comfortable.

Often the only sound is the buzz of the drones, small pilotless reconnaissance aircraft that are rarely seen but always heard as they scan every inch, transmitting laser-sharp images to someone, somewhere, who you hope is in a good mood.

Above that, the howl of aircraft cruising the skies which Israel masters unchallenged.

Based on the drone images, strikes can be ordered up instantly and with devastating accuracy from often unseen helicopters, jets or gunboats.

And, every so often, massive explosions echo through the streets. Sometimes you cannot tell whether it is bombs coming in or Hezbollah rockets being fired out from the nearby hills.

Every so often, massive explosions echo through the streets. You feel exposed and vulnerable
In either case you feel very exposed and vulnerable. When things go out, worse things come back in.

The results are on display everywhere. Vast craters smack in the middle of the main roads. Burned-out cars. The mangled wreckage of motorcycles - for Hezbollah operatives are known to travel on bikes, and several have paid with their lives for being spotted.

Such sights and sounds are not reassuring as you plod through the sun, wishing that boy on a motor-scooter would pass more quickly in case whoever is watching is not in a good mood.

The streets look deserted, but some people are still around. On the edge of town, a man appears from behind a small house.

"I just came out to get some air and have a cigarette, we've been so cooped up," he says, and speaks in slogans.

"My family's still here. We're steadfast in the Lebanese homeland. May God mend the situation and bring us peace. War isn't good for anybody. Peace is better. War doesn't give you anything. We're not afraid. What is written comes from God, but may he bring peace."

Ambulances in danger

Around the corner is the Lebanese Red Cross. Lots of ambulances outside, immobile. Then the sound of an engine, and one moves.

"Don't worry, I'm just parking!" shouts the driver. He is Kassem Shaalan. He knows what it is like to be hit by a rocket.

Red Cross vehicle drives around a bomb crater
Red Cross vehicles face destroyed roads as well as direct hits
On the evening of 23 July, he and two other medics answered a call to rendezvous with an ambulance from Tibnin, in the hills to the east, to relay three civilian patients down to Tyre.

Both ambulances were struck precisely by separate rockets as they were stopped at the roadside near Qana for the transfer.

It was 2230 at night. There was nothing else on the road. They were clearly marked, and lit up with flashing blue lights and illuminated Red Cross flags.

Kassem, his two colleagues, the three medics in the other ambulance, and the three Lebanese patients, were all injured.

One of the patients, 38-year-old Ahmad Fawwaz, lost his leg in the ambulance. His mother Jamileh, 58, and son Ahmad, 8, were both seriously injured.

We get many calls from villages saying they have injured people, but there is no permission to go
Kassem Shaalan
Lebanese Red Cross
But they all survived. And Kassem is back at work.

"Until now, we don't understand why they did it," he says now. "It has confused us. But it will not stop us. I'm still wearing the Red Cross uniform, and if they tell me to go, I'll go and help.

"Because of the Israeli warning, every movement we do goes through the International Red Cross," he says.

"They ask Israel for permission. If we have it, we go. If we don't, we can't. We get many calls from villages saying they have injured people, but there is no permission to go. Yes, people could be dying because we can't get to them in time. If you don't get treated within one hour, you are much more likely to die."

'Please don't hit us'

In the centre of town, Tyre's souk, usually vibrant and crowded, is deserted. Usually you cannot walk here without being jostled in the crowd.

Around the corner by the harbour, dainty colourful fishing boats bob up and down in the sunshine.

Israel jet drops flares and bombs
Israeli jets can drop bombs moments after receiving intelligence
But the fishermen are sitting idle in the dockside cafe, where they cannot afford to buy themselves a coffee.

"There's no work, no money, just hunger," grumbles one. "The boats are forbidden to go out from the port. We can't fish at all. We're just living off what they give us to eat and drink, that's all.

"If we had any money, we'd have run away. Of course we're afraid, but they haven't hit this area yet. This is a safe area, there's no resistance here. There's only the sea and us fishermen."

He hopes the message is received and understood: please don't hit us.

A little up the empty road, one of the few shops that are still open. The shopkeeper is a woman with startling blue eyes. She speaks in slogans too.

"No, we're not frightened. We're not leaving. This is our land, our home. So what if they've decided to come further in. We're staying. It is God's will."


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