Lebanese direct growing anger at US

While the US worked on a cease-fire agreement, Israeli warships fired on southern Beirut.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

With his arm raised and fist clenched, Sheikh Hussein furiously expressed a sentiment rapidly taking hold here.

"We know who our first enemy is: America," he shouted before tearful mourners at a funeral Wednesday for 30 civilians killed by an Israeli airstrike on Monday. The white-turbaned sheikh led the crowd in a militant chant: "Death to America! Death to America!"

Even as Israel continues to pound Beirut's southern suburbs, and agreed Wednesday on plans to expand its four-week-old offensive as far as 18 miles into southern Lebanon, many here increasingly blame the US for its extensive military and political support for the Jewish state.

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"Israel wants to stop the war, but America orders them to continue," the sheikh asserted later in an interview. "This is the American freedom?"

Moments before the first child was interred by weeping parents Wednesday, Israeli ordnance hit again at a building nearby; more strikes followed during burials. In the south of the country, as many as 10,000 Israeli troops continued their slow push north, against strong resistance from Hizbullah guerrillas.

And in Beirut's Shiyyah district, where the Israeli strikes Monday night took more than 40 lives – the largest single-event toll of the conflict – it was a day of digging.

Just after first light, Hassan Dirani pulled several stuffed teddy bears and toys from the rubble, shook off the dust, and gently assembled them on a slab of concrete, with a blonde doll on top. They were dolls his own children had given to families displaced by fighting in the south, who had sought refuge in this "safe" Shiite-Christian neighborhood.

For Mr. Dirani, his emotions were first about the children – three of his remained in the rubble. And second, they were about accusing the US of giving Israel a free hand to destroy Lebanon.

"Thank you, George Bush. Thank you for those 'smart' bombs," says Dirani, whose wife and surviving son were injured in the attack. "I want to ask George Bush: 'What did our children do to him?' "

"Even with this, we love the American people. We love peace and respect Americans," continues Dirani, differentiating individuals from official policies. Unprompted, shell-shocked Lebanese now often skip accusations against Israel, and lay blame on its chief patron.

"I beg Americans not to vote for another butcher and criminal like George Bush," says Dirani, who works at the environment ministry. Tearfully, he says his small daughter, now entombed, had been sharing her excitement about her upcoming sixth birthday party next week; she wrote out an invitation list of 20 school friends.

"Why does your system and White House do this to us ... give smart bombs to throw on our people?" asks Dirani. "What are you going to tell your kids [to explain it]?"

It is these human dramas that are changing attitudes in the war sparked by Hizbullah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers. Israel's overwhelming military response has emptied southern Lebanon of 700,000 people, blockaded the country, and systematically destroyed bridges and airports, making relief efforts all but impossible. On the first day of conflict, Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz vowed to "turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years" if the soldiers were not returned.

"That's how they create terrorists," says Mohammed, a Lebanese restaurant owner, while watching the digging effort in Shiyyah. "And they ask: 'Why do they hate us?' "

As the bulldozers and backhoes moved slabs of smashed concrete, the tines of their buckets biting with determination into the smoking rubble, emergency workers with picks and shovels – and stretchers at the ready – kept a sharp eye for victims.

First one man was found, then a woman. Then a backhoe driver called out through the dust: "Here's another one!"

It was 4-year-old Riham Ramaiti, granddaughter of Said Yatim, who broke down, shaking, at the sight of her.

"No! No!" he cried, shouting prayers as she was bundled up and taken away for washing, and then the afternoon funeral. Riham had been visiting relatives with her father, Ali, an electrician, and mother, Maya, when the building collapsed.

"I don't understand anything! I don't know, I just don't know," wailed Mr. Yatim, his body shaking. "Criminal people and a criminal government does this to us. The kids have nothing to do with missiles and bombs, but they are burning everything. No one in the world deserves such a massacre."

Other anxious relatives clamored nearby, waiting for news; one official in a bright green emergency vest carried a list of names, crossing out one after another throughout the grim task.

"Americans, Europeans, and the Western people are great people ... they love freedom," says Yatim, as workers sought to find his daughter. "But the governments of Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair are criminal."

Yatim's wife Alia arrived, wearing a black head scarf, her face twisted with emotion.

"I saw Riham," Yatim reported to her. "She looked the same, nothing changed. She's an angel."

The search continued. More were found. An emergency worker discovered a large chunk of shrapnel, a foot long and very heavy, with sharp serrated edges designed to destroy buildings.

"We never thought we would see this in Lebanon again," says Alia, who survived the 1975-90 civil war.

"Imagine if Americans were receiving this, and not Lebanese," says Yatim. "If these were Americans dying in this massacre, what would they think?

"We are in the 21st century, and it's unbelievable we still have people who follow such a savage way," he continues. "There are 1,000 ways, democratic ways, that [Americans] can protect the world – not this way."

Then he broke away, as a bucket of rubble was emptied on a collapsed roof. "There is Riham's toy!" Yatim tells his wife. A moment later, it was covered by another bucketful.

"Will your words and photographs go out? They won't stop you?" Yatim asks a visiting reporter, his voice at once broken, and tinged with challenge. "We don't trust the world anymore."

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