Stench of death hangs over south Lebanon villages

By Hussein Saad

08/01/06BINT JBEIL, Lebanon (
Reuters) - "Four bodies inside this house", reads the notice scrawled with charcoal on the remains of a house in the southern Lebanese village of Aynata.

In the neighbouring town of Bint Jbeil, the stench of death rises from the ruins of the once-bustling market street.

One village along in Aitaroun, tearful residents clutch white sheets and what belongings they can salvage, begging journalists and rescue workers alike for a ride out of "hell".

"We have been living in hell and fear for 21 days, without power or water and we felt real hunger. We even ate stale and mouldy bread to keep going," sobbed Zeinab Baalbaki, who said a number of her relatives have been killed in Israeli air raids.

"The children felt the worst pain because we could not find milk. Is it their fault, these people who had their homes brought down on their heads?"

After 21 days of Israeli air strikes, rescue workers have used a partial 48-hour respite to aerial bombardment to visit Lebanese border villages that have seen the worst of the violence and been largely cut off from the world.

There, they have found ruined buildings and largely deserted streets. Where residents have been stranded, some are now hungry or wounded and desperately waiting for a chance to get out.

The Lebanese government says dozens of bodies have yet to be recovered from beneath the rubble or from cars hit by Israeli missiles. The government has so far put the war's death toll at 750, including unrecovered bodies.

Fifty-one Israelis have been killed in the conflict between Hizbollah and the Jewish state, which is trying to stop the guerrillas from launching rockets into Israel. Hizbollah triggered the war by capturing two Israeli soldiers.


The blackened remains of burnt-out petrol stations dot the roads between villages, many of which have seen entire streets or quarters flattened, trapping anyone sheltering inside.

From the entrance of the Hizbollah stronghold of Bint Jbeil, which has seen some of the worst fighting, to the centre of town, buildings have been reduced to rubble.

The smell of dead bodies hangs over Bint Jbeil, dubbed the "capital of liberation" by Hizbollah in honour of the war of attrition the guerrilla group waged against Israel until it ended 22 years of occupation in 2000.

In Aynata, a youth showed journalists to places where bodies remained buried beneath the rubble, with no one able to remove them under fire. Locals left signs to mark where they lay.

In Aitaroun, accessible only by dirt road after the main route from Bint Jbeil was cut off by fighting, southerners gathered weeping and holding on to visiting journalists begging them not to leave them behind.

Some of them sat in cars or open trucks waiting to leave. Some had no cars and hitched rides with visiting journalists. Most were women, children and elderly people.

But despite their three weeks on the front lines of the battle, most pledged loyalty to the Shi'ite Muslim group Hizbollah and its leader Sayyed Hassan Nassrallah.

"We are with Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah even if we have to die," repeated Fatima al-Sayyed as she sat weeping in her black veil with a toddler in her lap.

It is a mantra that heard often in southern Lebanon.

"My God destroy Israel and destroy the Arab rulers before it because they are all conspiring against us," said Fatima al-Akhras, an elderly woman in Aitaroun. "In the end God will make us victorious, make the resistance victorious."

Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.

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