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Conflict jars life on both sides

Published July 14, 2006

On both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border, residents caught in the cross-fire of an international crisis did their best to escape or stay hidden.

In the summer, Israelis normally flock to Nahariya and other towns in northern Israel for vacations in the rolling hills of Galilee. But the resort was perhaps the hardest hit Thursday by Hezbollah guerrilla rockets from Lebanon, and the traffic on the main roads was almost all headed south, as residents sought to move out of rocket range.

It is also tourist season for Beirut, but the streets of Lebanon's capital were largely empty Thursday, as tourists and locals alike tried to flee. At one bank, the employees who decided to show up were distracted by TV images of Israel shelling Lebanese villages on the second day of Israel's bombardment, triggered by Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers on Wednesday.

Lebanese hoping to be reunited with family members who live abroad, as they do every summer, were bitterly disappointed when the airport closed because of Israeli airstrikes.

"We're weeping inside," Muhammad Abed said as he puffed on a pipe outside his store that sells traditional artifacts to tourists. "It wasn't the right time for such an operation," he said of Hezbollah snatching the Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah is a militant Shiite faction which has a free hand in southern Lebanon and also holds seats in Parliament.

"Business was just picking up. We were hoping for an excellent summer, but now look at this," added Abed, pointing to hotel porters across the street loading the luggage of Persian Gulf tourists into two cars.

In Lebanon, the only places besides the Lebanon-Syrian border that saw crowds were supermarkets, where mobs of shoppers stocked up on canned food, water and bread, and gas stations, where lines stacked up amid rumors of fuel shortages.

Those who remained in northern Israel moved into bomb shelters, creating a ghost town atmosphere. Clouds of smoke rose on the horizon in several places, the result of a cluster of rockets that ignited fires.

In the Israeli Arab village of Majdel Krum, a few miles to the south and east of Nahariya, a resident, Farhat Farhat, 23, said, "I was walking next door to my cousin's house when I heard this tremendous explosion.

"When I looked up," he continued, "it seemed like my whole house was flying through the air - the roof, the glass, even the water heater."

Seconds later, he said, a second rocket slammed into his cousin's house. Farhat suffered minor cuts to his left hand and left leg, and no one in either house suffered serious injuries.

At the hospital in Nahariya, the patients were moved into underground rooms as a precaution. In the emergency ward, a steady stream of wailing women and sobbing children filled the chaotic hallways.

Dr. Jack Stolero, who runs the emergency room, has been coping with rockets out of nearby Lebanon for three decades, and Thursday was one of the roughest days he has seen.

"I've never been an optimist," said Stolero, 57, smoking a cigarette during a brief lull between rocket attacks on Thursday afternoon. "We've had a period of calm for a few years, but I always thought we would see more trouble."

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.

[Last modified July 14, 2006, 02:40:35]

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