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Determined Lebanese stay back to help others
27 July 2006
by Challiss McDonough

Tyre, Lebanon: At Tyre's main outdoor market, a vegetable merchant adjusted the antenna on a tiny black-and-white television, trying to get a better reception.  The television was blaring a local anthem, accompanied by video footage of exploding bombs and fiery infernos.

TV journalist Khaled Kazziha, explained the lyrics.

"This is a popular song nowadays.  It says 'wein, wein' - where, where is Arab honour, where are the millions, where is the Arab anger, where is the Arab people, where is their unity, where are our leaders, and the song is called 'Where,' and it just keeps going on and repeats the chorus: 'where, where,'" said Kazziha.

The grocer does not need to turn on the television to see what this war is doing to his country.  Everyone here in Tyre can hear the incessant pounding of Israeli shells falling on the nearby villages, all day long.  Sometimes, air strikes hit the town.  A seven-storey building was blown to bits late Wednesday.

But despite the war, life in the town of Tyre goes on, as close to normal as the remaining residents can make it. Many people have left for safer ground in the north, or in the mountains. The streets are almost deserted, but you can still see some residents sitting on plastic chairs outside local cafes.

Some people are simply stuck here, with no money or transportation to get out.  But many of those who stay, like vegetable dealer Nasser Hawili, are resolute.

"Why should I leave?  Leave it for who?  Leave it for the Israelis?  Leave it for the Israelis to come and take it again?  I do not want to leave.  I want to say," he said.

The town's fruit and vegetable market is still stocked with cabbages, eggplants, and watermelons, even though there are not many customers. Hajji Khalila Ashour sorted through crates of tomatoes, looking for the best ones.  She is an old woman now and has seen war after war.  She is not going anywhere.

"Who are we supposed to be afraid of? Can there be more terror than the fear that we are living under? We fear no one except God, the one who created us, and I spit on them all," she says, referring to the Israeli army, Lebanese politicians and the international community.

As people try to go about their daily lives, there is a sense of anger and helplessness in Lebanon, and a feeling of betrayal as international talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire have failed to produce results.

In the lobby of the town's hospital, Uhaila Korani is waiting for treatment of an ordinary illness, not anything war-related.  But her life has been torn apart, and her country is being torn apart, and she is furious.

"They are attacking the United Nations," she said. "They are attacking the Red Cross. Up in my village, in Yatar, it is completely destroyed. Nobody dares go up there. They have got bodies buried in the rubble, and the dogs are eating human corpses. And the rest of the world just does nothing."
 
The Israeli military hit a UN observation post in Khair on Tuesday, killing four unarmed UN monitors. On Sunday, two Red Cross ambulances were bombed, injuring three already-wounded patients and six Red Cross staff.

Red Cross volunteer Kassem Shaalan was there and narrowly escaped with his life, but afterward he said he and the other volunteers are determined to do their jobs.

"We spoke with each other.  We said, 'Look, guys, we have two choices.  Either to say OK, we want to go, and there is no one to help the people, or to say we chose to be volunteers and this is the time to be here and to help the people.'  So we said, 'OK, we will stay here.'  And yes, we are [at] risk.  Yes, sometimes we are afraid, but we do this job because these people, they are from our country, and we must help these people," he said.

Back at the vegetable stand, a few customers are still picking through the merchandise, buying food to cook for dinner.

They stare anxiously at the sky as an unseen Israeli jet swoops low overhead. And the voice of Lebanese singer Julia Boutros continues to blare from the television, asking where the anger is.