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Last Updated: Friday, 14 July 2006, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Bustling Beirut turns to ghost town
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Beirut

Normally vibrant Beirut is a ghost town. Shops are closed and streets are deserted. Cafes that usually bustle with customers are shuttered.

Bombed airport bridge
A bridge on the airport road was destroyed

This is not an ordinary time for Beirut. For its inhabitants, their city is under siege.

Israel has been bombing the city's infrastructure to put pressure on Hezbollah to free two Israeli soldiers captured on Wednesday.

The airport has been attacked on two successive days, destroying the runway and a fuel depot.

A Kurdish airways plane sits forlornly at the end of the runway. A pall of thick, black smoke rises from the burning fuel depot and trails across Beirut, a city strung along the coast.

The airport appears desolate apart from the two security guards lounging at the automatic doors of the departure hall.

Clearly, nobody is flying out of Beirut anytime soon.

Fearful

A bridge on the road leading to the airport is destroyed, the result of another air strike.

The buildings close to the bridge, including a medical clinic, have blown out windows. Glass shards are strewn across the street.

Beirut family
The home of Mohammed Birrow smells of toxic fumes
One woman rocked from her sleep by the blast has both her feet in bandages. She says they are both badly burned.

Another man, Abrahim Finish, 65, says he is fearful of further Israeli strikes.

A few hundred metres from the site of the bridge, there is a gaping hole in the centre of a densely populated housing area.

The Israeli air strike took out a roundabout but did not directly hit any buildings.

A worker sits on a yellow digger and attempts to remove the broken water pipes from the 3.7m (12ft) crater.

'God on our side'

Apartments close to the airport are filled with toxic fumes. Mohammed Birrow, 55, lives with his wife and six children but he doesn't seem unduly concerned.

Plane at Beirut airport and burning fuel tank in background
Israel has made several attacks on the airport

His children play as normal.

His wife, Najwa, says she is not fearful of future Israeli strikes. She insists that God is on the side of Hezbollah, and that Israel and the United States are the devil.

An hour after she made her comments, Israel launched an air strike on the militant group's headquarters in the city.

Israeli planes also dropped leaflets warning civilians to clear out of residential areas considered to be Hizbollah strongholds.

On the seafront, the city's famous corniche is quiet. On Fridays, it is normally crowded with people.





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