Lebanese assess their losses

On Monday, Arab ministers called for a US-French resolution to be revised more in Lebanon's favor.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Emotional and stunned as he viewed the smoldering ruin that once housed his office, Razwan Bahar made a request for help that served as metaphor Monday for the belated diplomacy swirling around the Israel-Hizbullah war.

"Did you call the fire department?" Bahar asked a young man in a Shiite militia T-shirt, shortly after an Israeli air strike pancaked the building at dawn. "Yes, we did," came the straight reply. "But they are not coming because there is nothing left to save of this building. It has all collapsed."

While Mr. Bahar and others from this Beirut Hizbullah stronghold tallied the cost of the destruction Monday, Arab foreign ministers met downtown. The Lebanese government called for the US and France to revise a draft UN Security Council resolution to require an immediate cease-fire and full withdrawal of 10,000 Israeli troops fighting Hizbullah in southern Lebanon. Arab League foreign ministers agreed to send a delegation to New York.

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The US and France had planned to put the resolution to a vote Monday, but that goal slid to Tuesday at the earliest. Since the war erupted July 12, the Security Council has only issued two statements reacting to Israeli attacks on a UN observer post and on civilians in Qana. Lebanese government officials said Monday the Cabinet unanimously approved sending 15,000 Lebanese soldiers to south Lebanon as soon as Israeli troops withdraw.

In fighting Monday, three Israeli soldiers were killed in south Lebanon, the Israeli army said, near the Hizbullah stronghold of Bint Jbail. Hizbullah fired another 160 rockets on northern Israel on Monday, injuring five people, police and rescue services told the Associated Press. Israeli warplanes intensified airstrikes and launched a new commando raid in south Lebanon on Monday, killing at least 28 people in one of the heaviest tolls in days. Lebanon's prime minister, choking back tears, pleaded for a cease-fire but demanded that any U.N.-drafted plan require a full Israeli withdrawal.

The Lebanese death toll included at least five people killed after nightfall in a missile attack on a Beirut suburb considered a Hizbullah stronghold.

Hizbullah also unleashed a new weapon, sending an unmanned aircraft toward the border. The Israelis said the drone had the capacity to carry a powerful explosive warhead guided by a precise targeting system. The Israeli air force shot down the drone over the sea, and naval vessels were sent to recover wreckage to see if it was armed, the military said.

President Bush, speaking Monday from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, said that "we all recognize that the violence must stop." He said that the US wants a comprehensive solution that offers a lasting peace, but said that an Israeli withdrawal first would create a "vacuum."

The rising death toll in Lebanon prompted an emotional response. A tearful Siniora said that Israel's bombardment of Lebanon – ignited when Hizbullah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border ambush – has set "our country back decades. We are still in the middle of shock." Siniora said initially that 40 people had died in the village of Houra, though he amended that later to one dead. "If these horrific actions are not state terrorism, then what is state terrorism?" he asked.

The shock has weighed most heavily on Lebanese civilians, who comprise most of the more than 900 who have died in southern Lebanon and Shiite southern districts of Beirut. More than 90 Israelis, most soldiers, have died in rocket attacks on Israel.

"We need to force the Israeli aggressor to stop its aggression, and to withdraw behind the blue line," said Siniora, noting Lebanon's further request for return of Shebaa Farms, exchange prisoners, and provide border-area maps of land mines.

For those standing amid the debris in front of Bahar's office building, the toll on the Israeli side yields little sympathy. A mattress hangs limply across telephone wires; receipts from the medical warehouse on the ground floor flutters in the breeze.

When asked whom he blames for the destruction, Bahar's neighbor, Esam, answers firmly. "The Israelis, of course," he says. "They are barbarians."

That feeling was widely voiced as people gathered belongings in plastic sacks or luggage, and walked, or consoled neighbors.

'This is my home,' said Sermad, who lingered, downcast, in front of the burning rubble, sometimes choking on the smoke. 'The third floor; I don't know where now.'

His refrigerator lay on its side in the street, its door ripped off. He picked up someone else's photo album and leafed through it. Then he saw a closet's worth of children's clothing strewn about and sprinkled with concrete and dust.

"These are their clothes," said the father of four. "These are their school uniforms."

As Sermad mourned, tears flowed between two women. One had just emerged, looking shell-shocked, from the building adjacent to the one destroyed. She shouted "Salim! Salim!" for a nearby male relative.

She found a neighbor, Fadia Dergham, and they hugged. Ms. Dergham had moved out with her sister the day before. "I feel normal," said Dergham. "We were expecting this." "By chance yesterday, we left," said her sister Samia. "And we came back to see this."

But their building was not the only one targeted Monday. Lebanese ambulance workers raced to one building after receiving a call that there might be survivors.

They arrived to find "Scouts of the Islamic Message,'' a branch of a Hizbullah young men's civil defense unit climbing into crevasses of collapsed buildings.

Scouts crawled down into the rubble hoping for any sign of life. Most of these suburbs have been empty for weeks, so Israeli strikes now cause few casualties.

One medic joked that he and other medics "sleep standing up." But, "any more difficult, I cannot imagine."

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