SHIAH, Lebanon (AFP) – “The whole Rmeiti family is dead,” screamed a distraught resident of the Shiah district in the southern suburbs of Beirut, turned into rubble and dust by twin Israeli air raids.
“They bombed us because we support Hezbollah,” whispered Ali Rmeiti, 40, smoking cigarette after cigarette, the only member of his family to escape alive, just because he went to visit friends in Beirut.
Like most residents of the Shiite Shiah neighborhood, Ali is a dedicated supporter of Hezbollah, who believes the Lebanese Shiite party’s standing has been strengthened by this war.
He dismisses a statement issued on Monday by the Lebanese government that it was ready to deploy 15,000 troops at the border with Israel to usurp the armed Hezbollah militants who had made the area their fiefdom.
“It is just political rhetoric. They want to appease those they are afraid of,” he said, burnt shoes and schoolbooks sharing the pavement with him.
“Siniora didn’t cry for us yesterday,” he said of an emotional speech by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to Arab foreign ministers, pleading that his country not to be used as an “arena for conflicts and confrontations.”
“It’s only (Hezbollah leader Hassan) Nasrallah who cares about us,” said Ali, his gaze still dead straight, hardly a blink.
Rescue workers had used machines and their bare hands to clear the debris and recover 13 bodies from the gaping hole left by the demolished buildings after the Israeli strikes late on Monday.
“When Israel dropped flyers (warning residents to evacuate) on south Beirut, they didn’t drop any on Shiah,” said Ali Fneish, one of the residents as sniffer dogs were unleashed behind him to search for more bodies.
“So everyone thought it was safe to come here. We know how many people live here, but we don’t know how many guests we had.”
Jihad sat on a dust-covered and broken plastic chair his face buried in his hands, waiting to find out the fate of his mother who had paid a visit to friends in one of the destroyed buildings.
“To hell with Israel. We won’t kneel to them,” he shouted, as his friends gripped his shoulders tightly in comfort.
“My mother might be under the rubble. I don’t know if she’s dead or alive but even she would tell you that she would gladly sacrifice her life for the resistance,” he yelled.
The buildings that bracketed the demolished ones were still standing, but their fronts had been blown off by the impact, exposing half a green bathroom and what remained of a children’s bedroom complete with teddy bears and toys.
Mohammed al-Khansari, the president of the Ghraibi municipality to which Shiah belongs, came to inspect the damage and offer support to victims’ families.
“It’s a massacre,” he said, his voice muffled beneath the deafening groans of the bulldozers.
“With every Israeli strike, the popularity of the resistance grows,” he said to nods from his entourage.
“Before July 12, perhaps some people were against Hezbollah, now most of the Lebanese people support them,” he said coughing from the dust.
Bassem Hussein was woken up just hours after the raids struck by his boss who owns a fleet of truck cranes. The 28 year-old driver was told that buildings had collapsed in Shiah.
“He didn’t need to say anymore. I came straight away although I live near (the southern city of) Sidon,” said the fair skinned man, his hands bleeding from handling the debris.
“I came straight away. I’ve been removing cars all night,” he said tiredly.
“I’m not being paid for this, I’m doing it, like all the volunteers here, because we have a conscience,” said Bassem who hasn’t received a pay check since an Israeli military offensive which killed 1,064 people in 28 days and paralysed the country.
“It’s true that we’re hungry, that we have no more work, that hundreds have died,” he said.
“But that’s what war means and we all support Hezbollah in this war. The army can deploy all the troops it wants. But I, we, trust sayyed Nasrallah and I’m sure he has a plan for us. He won’t sell us cheaply like the others have.”