Dip in Violence Lets Bint Jbail Residents Regroup

Sick and elderly residents of the southern Lebanese village of Bint Jbail emerge from the rubble of their homes after more than a week of heavy fighting between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerrillas. The combatants have pulled out of the village for now — but they've left a huge unexploded Israeli bomb sitting in the middle of the road leading to it.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And as Mike Shuster just mentioned, Israel is continuing its ground offensive in southern Lebanon. And until just a few days ago, the town of Bint Jbeil was the scene of fierce fighting between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters.

NPR's Ivan Watson was able to travel to Bint Jbeil today. He sent this report.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

The hills around Bint Jbeil are charred and burned from artillery strikes. Every few hundred yards, craters puncture the road leading into this battleground from airstrikes which sent cars flipping into nearby buildings or simply smashed them in their tracks. An antiaircraft gun decorated with a Hezbollah flag stands at the gates of Bint Jbeil. After weeks of fighting, the Hezbollah monument is still standing, but there's little left of this once bustling border town.

You have to enter Main Street on foot because the road is littered with knee-high chunks of concrete, shards of metal and glass. Countless explosions have ripped through one building after another, reducing many to rubble. All the while, Israeli jets roar ominously overhead.

(Soundbite of jet engines)

WATSON: At first the town appeared disserted, no signs of Hezbollah fighters or the Israeli troops who fought for control of Bint Jbeil until just a few days ago. A hot breeze blew through the empty streets, fluttering a string of colorful plastic flags.

These banners once advertised a trade fair, but now lay wrapped around an unexploded, yard-long Israeli bomb. Slowly, several shell-shocked residents began limping out onto the streets, dazed and dehydrated after enduring nearly three weeks of fighting. An elderly woman named Sikni Hamiad(ph) sat on the sidewalk next to a broken refrigerator full of melting Snickers bars and cans of soda. Her silent, invalid brother lay on the sidewalk beside her.

Ms. SIKNI HAMIAD (Resident, Bint Jbeil): (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Translator: She wants to go. By all means, she wants to leave this you know. She thinks she's had enough of this place. And then the lights went off.

WATSON: Hamiad says she and her brother had taken shelter throughout the bombing in a house with dozens of other people, where there was no food and no medication for her brother. Hamiad was now too weak to walk, as were nearly a dozen other elderly and handicapped residents. But there were no rescue workers or ambulances here. Just a group of foreign journalists who had taken advantage of the cease-fire to convoy together to Bint Jbeil.

Unidentified Man #1: Water, please. Water.

WATSON: The reporters carried the elderly in sheets, on makeshift stretchers made of ladders or simply hoisted them on their backs.

Unidentified Man #2: Someone help me.

Unidentified Man #3: Yeah, what do you need?

Unidentified Man #1: Move his right hand. Move his right hand. His right hand.

WATSON: As she was being moved, one elderly woman named Zanab Diabis(ph) said her blind brother, Ahmed, had been left somewhere behind. A Lebanese man who would not give his name set out into Bint Jbeil, calling into the ruins of one bombed out building after another.

Unidentified Man #4: (Speaking foreign language)

WATSON: After stumbling nearly a mile through the rubble, he found 70-year-old Ahmed, a small, white-bearded blind man with a blue cap and cane.

Mr. AHMED DIABIS(ph) (Resident, Bint Jbeil): (Speaking foreign language)

WATSON: Ahmed periodically called out for his sister as his anonymous Lebanese savior carried him piggyback over the rubble. Later, he was reunited with Zanab in the back of a battered Mercedes in a less-damaged part of town, part of a convoy of vehicles that would evacuate Bint Jbeil's few remaining residents to a hospital further north.

Near the Mercedes, newly arrived rescue workers loaded vans up with hysterical women and children, part of a group of 40 who had waited out the bombing in a single house.

(Soundbite of frantic crowd)

WATSON: Several girls wailed and cried as a woman in black robes described their nightmare experience in the shelter. There was no water or milk for the babies, she said. We were screaming for someone to help us. Then before she could finish her story, drivers shut the van doors and the vehicles raced off, away from this deserted battleground.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Bint Jbeil, Lebanon.

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