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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 August 2006, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Stressed out and anxious in Beirut
By Hugh Sykes
BBC News, Beirut

A Lebanese man retrieves a suitcase of belongings from his destroyed house
For many in Beirut the bombing feels like collective punishment

People keep asking me, "Do you know when it will stop?"

I shrug my shoulders, and say: "Your guess is as good as mine."

Then they ask: "But Beirut - will they bomb Beirut again?"

"What would be the point?" I reply.

Then they bombed Beirut again.

Dozens of displaced children living in a school in a quiet neighbourhood near the city centre heard terrifying loud bangs in the middle of the night.

Four massive thumps one night, and six the next, as Israeli bombs or shells slammed into the ground a few kilometres away.

Or into the children's homes.

Their families fled with them from their apartments in the suburbs, before the first Israeli attacks in mid-July.

Most have not been back since. They hope and pray their flats are waiting for them to return - silent and gathering dust, but intact.


People keep saying to me, "We are not Hezbollah - why are they bombing our homes?"

Ruins of bombed building in Beirut (pic: Hugh Sykes)
There are few who find the Israeli bombardment understandable

The Israelis say that these renewed attacks on Beirut are justified because they are targeting Hezbollah. But for the hundreds of thousands of people in this city who don't support Hezbollah it feels like collective punishment.

Hezbollah's primitive, unguided Katyusha rockets hit civilians too - although far fewer have died in Israel than have been killed in Lebanon by the massive Israeli munitions.

Many Lebanese readily agree that Hezbollah gravely miscalculated when they captured those two Israeli soldiers on 12 July - but now they go on to say: "We were never Hezbollah. But we are all Hezbollah now. The Israeli response is completely unjustified."

I have met some who curse Hezbollah, and who say the Israeli bombardment is understandable. Some, but not many.

And I don't think "But we are all Hezbollah now" is just talk. The more Israel destroys, the more supporters Hezbollah will be able to recruit.

'This is terrorism'

There is a widespread and deeply felt sense of grievance here that the majority of Lebanese are suffering for the continued existence of the military wing of Hezbollah - something their weak government was not in a position to do much about.

Uncertainty - and incomprehension that any of this is happening - is eroding energy here, and wearing people down.

Beirut streets are power-cut dark at night. Shops close early. Cafes and restaurants are struggling to survive, often serving barely one tenth of the usual number of customers.

Taxis apologise in advance in case they run out of petrol before they reach your destination.

And faces grow taut with exhaustion at the stress, and the fear of explosions.

Smoking hubble-bubble at a cafe one evening, I heard the sound of a fighter-bomber overhead.

A young man at the next table leaned over to me, gestured in the direction of the menacing rumble, and said: "This - this also is terrorism!"

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