Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – “It’s as if the gates of hell had opened,” was how a resident of Baalbeck described the Israeli assault late Tuesday.
Israeli planes circled over the eastern Lebanese city as commandoes landed near the Hezbollah-run Dar al Hikmah hospital, west of the city, in a wide scale operation, in search of Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s Secretary-General… instead they kidnapped his namesake, who sells hunting equipment, and his neighbors as they played a game of cards.
“The battle”, as eye witnesses told Asharq al Awsat, started at 10:30 pm on Tuesday with heavy air raids by F-16 fighter jets and helicopters, with paratroopers landing near in the hospital before storming the building that Hezbollah had vacated at the start of the conflict.
Five Israeli helicopters landed close to the hospital and soldiers moved to the eastern fence, where they spoke in Persian with a guard before shooting him. They later killed another guard inside the hospital.
The Israeli soldiers occupied the hospital for half an hour, during which they searched the offices and confiscated documents and computers. They even looked in the morgue, in search of the Party of God’s leader or Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek, a senior official. Residents said Israeli planes had intercepted a suspected Hezbollah convoy traveling to the hospital.
With the hospital raid proving fruitless, Israeli troops then attacked a house on the outskirts of Al Assira village nearby. They captured several residents who were playing cards. The men rejected Hezbollah’s request to leave the area at the start of the conflict, according to a party official.
Israeli troops broke into Hassan Nasrallah’s house. He owns a small shop where he sells hunting equipment in Baalbeck and another food store in the village. His nephew Bilal was also detained along with all the rest of card players: Hassan al Barji, a contruction worker, Mohammed Shokr, form the nearby town of Nabi Shiit and Nasrallah’s son-in-law, Ahmad al Awta, who also works in construction.
Israeli planes targeted individuals and cars in the area surrounding the hospital and shelled the nearby roads, leaving huge craters and rendering the roads unusable. Twenty-one people died, including five Syrian workers and a pregnant woman on her way to the hospital.
– Hussein Darwish in Baalbeck contributed to this report.