Running from commandos - and
mosquitoes By Syed Saleem
BEKAA VALLEY - Four weeks into the
war in Lebanon, the country's civilians are still
trying to adapt their lives to deal with the
constant rain of death that falls unremittingly
from the skies.
The total casualties in
Lebanon and Israel are estimated at close to a
thousand, with the majority being civilians in
The Zaitar family in Baalbek
lives in an average house near the American
Education Institute. The house is a standalone
building, with no other buildings close.
"We have a strange lifestyle now. This is
summer vacation for the schools and the kids are
always desperate to play on the road, but out of
fear of Israeli attacks, we have to lock them in
of the house," said Saida, mother of four.
Members of the family while away the days
talking on the house's terrace, the elders smoking
cigarettes and drinking endless cups of tea and
"This has been our routine since
the war broke out - there is nothing else to do.
Sometimes we watch TV, but the electricity goes
off quite often, so there are not many options
left," said Waleed, 21, a recruit in the Lebanese
army and a member of the Zaitar family.
The sound of a motorbike caught the
attention of the family, and they yelled almost
with one voice for the rider to come over to the
house. He was selling groceries and bread, and the
family bought some.
"All the shops are
closed. Now we are dependent of these mobile
vendors - they sell medicine and other items for
daily use," Saida explained.
Time to move
on and meet other people in the Bekaa Valley, the
strategic center of Hezbollah.
the driver, a local Hezbollah man accompanied me
in the car. It was 6pm and the roads were already
stopped in the Makaneyeh area to take a pictures
of a red car
Israeli drones. Another vehicle drew up near us
and a man frantically told us that we had better
move off. "Israeli commandos have landed in the
area," he said, adding that he was part of a local
network of people assigned to spread such critical
We didn't need a second
invitation, and promptly drove on for a date to
drink tea with the Muqdad family in a nearby
As we drove down a narrow
alley I noticed that a car appeared to be
following us, so we slowed down short of the
Muqdad household. The other car stopped as well.
A tall beaded man in camouflage dress and
holding a walkie-talkie approached. A brown prayer
mark shone on his forehead. He could only be
Hezbollah, and had obviously been alerted to the
presence of a strange car marked with the letters
"TV" in white tape on the body.
experience of the past few days, the media do come
to the Bekaa Valley, but only when the Israelis
hit a target. They seldom stay any longer than
they have to, as the valley is under the constant
observation of Israeli drones and air attacks are
frequent throughout the day and night.
After some basic queries, the Hezbollah
commander was satisfied that we were harmless and
joined us for tea.
"This is exactly the
time for Israeli strikes, at dusk. Their aircraft,
including Apache helicopters, enter the valley
from the Western Mountains and travel all around
the area as they make their way east," the
"When they get specific
information, they drop their commandos, who try to
confront us, otherwise they target vehicles,
especially supply trucks. So please watch out when
you drive back," the commander said. He declined
to mention his name.
Only half an hour
later, Israeli forces and Hezbollah confronted
each other in Brital village in the valley.
Apparently, Hezbollah suffered heavy losses.
Meanwhile, the Muqdad family apologized
that they would not be able to chat for long as
they were preparing their sleeping bags to take to
a farm, where they slept every night under trees.
"At least trees can provide a good hiding
place and shelter, and being in the open gives us
a chance to run if we have to. If the Israelis
pounded our houses, we would be trapped inside the
concrete structures," one member said.
Such a scenario was all to easy to
imagine. Just a few hours earlier I had been to
the farmhouse of the Jamaluddin family, where
several members had been killed in an Israeli air
attack last week.
The seven family members
had been sleeping when Israeli drones scored a
direct hit with an MK bomb. A few ran out
nervously to hide near the house, which belonged
to the local mayor.
The drone followed the
fleeing members and they were killed, their blood
spattered all over the place. The family's
Volkswagen station wagon was also hit.
now the Muqdad family had headed for their
sleeping place, and it was getting late. Although
mosquitoes were the only things that had attacked
me - a pack of barking dogs looked pretty
menacing, too - I was acutely aware that the
dreaded drones could home in on me at any time.
Hezbollah fighters were hunkered down,
awaiting a possible attack.
It was time to
go - I was not ready to be caught in the middle of
a situation of which I was not a part. Despite the
insistence of my driver that it was too dangerous
to travel, we drove back to Beirut.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Pakistan
Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online. He can be
reached at email@example.com.
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