Jewish state brings war to Lebanon's Christian heartland
By Rym Ghazal
Retrieved from Daily Star on Saturday, August 05, 2006
BEIRUT: Israeli warplanes destroyed five bridges along the main North-South coastal highway Friday, killing five people, wounding 19 others and completely isolating the capital from the North of the country. At dawn, Israeli jets struck the Ghazir bridge, the Maameltein bridge near the Casino du Liban, the Halat/Fidar bridge near Jbeil, and the Madfoun bridge linking Northern Lebanon with Mount Lebanon, and the Afqa bridge connecting Mount Lebanon with the Bekaa Valley.
The strikes destroyed the only remaining land outlet via Syria after the bombardment of other border crossing points.
"They have struck every major bridge in Lebanon, cutting the country into pieces," Public Works and Transport Minister Mohammad Safadi told The Daily Star.
Besides the 71 bridges destroyed so far, Israeli warplanes also again struck the main Masnaa border crossing in eastern Lebanon and the Faraya-Ouyoun al-Simane road linking the Mount Lebanon range with the inland Bekaa Valley.
"They have pushed Lebanon back 20 years, with only the narrow, twisted old roads available for transportation, limiting traffic across the country," said Safadi, who estimated the cost of reconstruction to be more than $2 billion.
Safadi also advised drivers to be "cautious, and avoid tunnels" as he predicted that they would be the next targets.
Five civilians were killed in the strikes, Omar al-Shami, Zyad Damaa, Qassim al-Baaryni, Joseph Bassil, and army officer, Nazeh Khaled Mohammad, said security sources.
The strikes against the Northern highway also hindered means of bringing fuel and relief supplies into Lebanon, said Safadi, echoing criticism by international aid agencies.
"We had international assurances that the road from Aridya to Beirut would remain open and safe for humanitarian transportation, but it seems that even international assurances don't mean much now," he added.
The UN's World Food Program called the road struck "Lebanon's umbilical cord," and it was reported that an eight-truck convoy carrying food, shelter material and other aid to the estimated 900,000 Lebanese displaced by the three-week-old war had been halted there.
"This [road] has been the only way for us to bring in aid," said Christiane Berthiaume of WFP to the media.
Along with the Israeli naval blockade, the repeated strikes against the road to the eastern border and on other roads to Syria, along with attacks on the capital's Rafik Hariri International Airport, all access points to the outside world have been closed off.
The European Commission also expressed concern after the cutting of the Northern highway, and urged both sides to keep aid corridors open.
"The humanitarian situation in Lebanon is deteriorating and now more than ever it is essential that we continue to have access to the people that urgently need our help," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.
"Both parties have a responsibility to ensure corridors for the safe provision of aid to the needy Lebanese are open and respected," she said in a statement.
Since these count as the worst attacks yet on the country's Christian heartland, the strikes targeted more than just the infrastructure and transport, according to political analyst Helal Khashan.
"By striking the North and the road between, Israel is trying to create a wedge between Lebanese people, with Shiites on the one side and the other sects on the other side," Khashan told The Daily Star.
Khashan said this move is also a military tactic, where by hitting the Northern areas and around Beirut, is creating "a diversion."
"The painful slow progress in the South is causing Israel to adopt new tactics of crippling this country, and making sure it will be difficult for Lebanon to rebuild," said Khashan.
Khashan predicted that Israel might avoid hitting central Beirut, and will continue bombing around the capital, as a reaction to a threat by Hizbullah's leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, to rocket Tel Aviv if Israel strikes the heart of Beirut.
"Israel won't quit until it teaches Lebanon that no one is allowed to challenge the state of Israel," he said, adding the military offenses should be "dwindling" within the next few days as the cease-fire approaches.
Some observers went further and said that Israel was sending a clear political message to the Christians of Lebanon, warning them they should have remained neutral.
Recently Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir condemned Israeli attacks, and Israeli strikes on the Kesrouan and Byblos road which could be seen as a clear message to Hizbullah's ally, MP Michel Aoun. - With agencies