Middle East

Traveling on the Beirut-Damascus Highway

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Among the targets of the latest wave of Israeli airstrikes was the only major road left linking Beirut to Damascus. NPR's Jackie Northam traveled that road today and has a reporter's notebook.


To Lebanon now, where Israeli planes hit a key highway today. It was the last available land route for humanitarian supplies. Israel says it was targeted to stop the flow of weapons from Syria.

NPR's Jackie Northam traveled that road earlier today and she filed this report from Damascus.


Lebanon's Number Two highway was a smooth, four lane road that got drivers from Beirut to the Syrian border in about an hour and a half. It was the only significant road still open after Israeli warplanes attacked all the other key roads, bridges and border crossings over the past three weeks. Today, Israeli warplanes destroyed four bridges on the Number Two highway.

Not far out of Beirut, in the town of Malmatain(ph), you see the first of the bombed bridges. This one was nicknamed Casino Bridge because it took patrons to a popular gambling casino. Now, there's about a ten foot hole right in the middle of the structure, making it impassible.

A few more miles north, near the town of Byblos, is what remains of another bridge, its crumbled ruins spread out along the valley it was spanning. A charred and crumpled truck lay smoking among the rubble.

Mr. SIMONE HAYLOT(ph): (Speaking foreign language)

NORTHAM: This resident, Simone Haylot, says that two bombs hit the columns of the bridge at about 8:30 this morning. He says the blasts shook his apartment building about a half a mile away.

(Soundbite of machinery)

NORTHAM: A bulldozer and other heavy machinery break up the rubble, trying to find a man from a nearby building who had some to work on his small garden next to the bridge. Groups of onlookers come and go. At times, you can continue to drive northward on the highway, that is until you hit another bridge that's been bombed and you have to detour again onto a narrow, twisting two lane road that hugs the Mediterranean shoreline for much of the now three hour journey towards the border.

In the towns and villages along the way, you see the Lebanese try to carry on with their daily lives, despite the shock to their communities. Shopkeepers sweep up the remains of their storefront windows. Women carry plastic bags loaded with groceries. The fruit and vegetable stalls display fresh cut watermelon, and chicken cooks on the roadside grills. The road is picturesque, but for travelers today, now is not the time to appreciate its charms. Instead, all thoughts are on evading yet another Israeli airstrike.

The bombings this morning were not expected here. This is a primarily Christian area of Lebanon. The people here have no links and little sympathy for Hezbollah. Still, throughout this region, you see the remains of Israeli airstrikes.

What you don't see along the journey is relief convoys. Today's bombings have cut off the main artery for bringing aid into Lebanon. When you do finally cross the Syrian border, you see eight U.N. trucks sitting idle with no place to go.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Damascus.

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